Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why Teach? This Is Why.

In 2003, I taught a number of classes at the Katherine Gibbs School of New York. These included Advertising, Sales, Finance, Economics and Mathematics. Having attended college and graduate school with some of the hardest working, most highly motivated, most competitive students in the world, and having just taught a class at the prestigious Stern School at NYU, it was a culture shock to encounter a classroom of students whose attitude towards school was, for many, jaded, wary and frustrated.

While virtually all of my classmates and students at Harvard, Wharton and NYU saw their attendance at these schools as part of an educational plan created years ago and never questioned, my Gibbs students had graduated high school but had not gone on to college. Enrolling at Gibbs was, for them, a first step towards getting a college degree, or a way to actualize a dream to own their own business, "become a CEO," create a line of licensed products, or simply move out of their role at the checkout counter of a retail chain.

Teaching these classes - particularly the large ones - was often frustrating and surprising. There was cheating, lying, real or forged doctors' notes for missed classes, no-shows for exams, and in-class cell phone usage, talking and eating to contend with. In addition, there were competing drains on their time - families, work, and, in one case, an unwanted pregnancy. But, as many teachers will tell you, among the frustrations, there were also gems. Students whose lives were truly touched by their interaction with me and my enthusiasm and commitment. Students that I exposed to experiences that were commonplace to me but first-time opportunities for them - such as seeing a video of a ballet dancer (I don't remember the context) or even an office environment. And many were affected by the opportunity I offered them to excel - without cheating.

At NYU, I often drilled students with practice questions for exams. I made a game out of it. During these Jeopardy review sessions, I would go around the room, presenting each student with exam-type questions. I would continue to feed each student questions until they got one wrong. Then I would ask the rest of the class to try to answer the problem and teach the topic to the rest of the class. If no one could adequately explain the answer, I would take some time to review that topic - therefore pinpointing the subjects that needed the most explanation. And, of course, there was candy involved, thanks to the generous budget of the Marketing Department.

At Gibbs, I would drill a student until he or she got the question RIGHT, keep score and reward the high scorers with magazines and other loot from my publishing jobs. And for the Gibbs students, not only were they given the questions in advance in the form of problem sets but ALL the exam questions came from these problem sets. So if they mastered the problem sets, they could master the exam. In fact, for my first class, the largest, I provided the actual exam in advance. Students had a direct roadmap to acing the exam (some with a 100% score) if they so desired. Many did not, which was disappointing and somewhat perplexing, but some did, which was a confidence-boosting, elation-creating and often first-time accomplishment for the student, one that did not come from cheating but from preparation.

Another opportunity I offered for success was extra credit. Seeking out and taking advantage of extra credit was a no-brainer for me - a habit my father had instilled in me at a young age. It still shocks me that there were students at both NYU and Gibbs that did not answer extra credit questions on exams - particularly because they were usually giveaways in which it was hard to give a wrong answer.

Well, in my current endeavor to digitize all paper in my apartment - a daunting task that initially freed up a lot of shelf space in my closet that is now populated by shoe boxes, making me wonder whether my purchase of a high-end scanner was an enabler or gateway for shoe purchases. But I digress. The point of this 6am entry is to share with you some of the interesting and inspirational responses I received from my students to these extra credit questions and to the questions I asked at the beginning of the semester in an effort to get to know the students and have them identify a goal towards which they were working.

Without further ado, here is a sampling - as written including spelling. But one last caveat, these papers do not include the questions, so I will have to surmise them from the answers.

1) What did you learn from this class and how will it help you professionally?

"I have definitely learned that listening skills are important. In the past, I was a bad listener. I would interrupt a relative or a friend when they are in the middle of their sentence. And at the job, I definitely did evaluative listening because I tried to listen but did not try to understand. Since I started my "Principles of Sales" class, I am practicing active listening; I must say that it is difficult, but it will get easier with practice.

Professor, I was not practicing active listening when you told the class about the elevator [I pointed out that two bells means the elevator is going down, one bell equals going up], but I will try to remember. I would also like to tell you that you have truly been a great influence on me. You have patience and tolerance and therefore, empathy. This I have also learnt in this class.

This will help me in my professional life because I want to have a sales career; I am in a sales career, and I will need to practice active listening so not only will I hear the words of my customers or prospects but I will also feel their emotions and sence their thoughts. I will be aware. This will help me personally because now I wouldn't get yelled at by my relatives and friends for interrupting them."

"From this class I have learnt to deal with customers in a better manner and how to explain the feature benefit and the advantage. I also understand what is takes to be a good salesperson not only wanting to make money but to satisfy the customers with what they need."

"Before I took this class, marketing is very abstractive. For business, most important things are production and selling. Those are what I have though before I took this class. But I have learned selling is a part of marketing and we can not separate marketing from any business."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What's Old Is New Again

In 2001, the publisher of the five-month old LUCKY magazine asked me to write a presentation addressing the question: "Why Launch a Magazine about Shopping at the Beginning of an Economic Downturn?" I gave her three answers: (1) Consumers are ready for the combined benefits of fashion magazines, catalog shopping & e-commerce, (2) Twenty something women who love to shop... love to shop! and (3) When times are good, you should advertise; when times are bad, you must advertise.

As part of the presentation, I included a line chart showing the decline of the Dow Jones from 11,600 to 9,200, which I then covered up bit by bit with expert opinions supporting the importance of maintaining marketing budgets during a recession. These were the following:

- "Companies that increase their marketing activities during the recession are more successful than companies which cut back." PIMS database of 1,000 companies.
- "Economic downturns reward the aggressive advertiser and penalize the timid one." Strategic Planning Institute
- "The most successful companies [maintain] their advertising investment when the economy slows down and weaker competitors cut back..." London Business School
- "During an economic downturn, a strong advertising/marketing effort enables a firm to solidify its customer base, take business away from less aggressive competitors, and position itself for future growth during the recovery." Coopers & Lybrand
- "Maintaining 'Share of Mind' costs much less than rebuilding it later on." American Business Model

I have always felt a sort of sympathy for car manufacturers spending millions of dollars on television advertising that was bound to get lost in the clutter of two to three automotive commercials per commercial pod (one national, one local and, more recently a second national ad separated from the first by some kind of "pod-breaker"). Personally, I found myself forwarding through automotive ads on a somewhat regular basis despite my being generally inclined to watch TV commercials. But it was a no win situation for automotive brands. While magazine publishers tried valiantly to impress upon them the value of print advertisements, car companies could not afford to take money out of TV so long as their peers were still there.

Fast forward to 2008 and 2009 and a sudden automotive silence within TV commercial pods. It was eery and a bit scary. Careful what you wish for - one might say. And then came the Super Bowl. During the game, there were two brands who dared to pony up the money for multi-million dollar spots: Hyundai and Audi. Audi, the insurgent brand that has often been willing to take risks, positioned its brand against other luxury autos through years, coming out as the only one with the performance attributes worthy of a James Bond. Hyundai, meanwhile, showed compassion for a country of would-be consumers paralyzed by their fear of losing their income. "If you lose your income, we will allow you to return your Hyundai," the announcer promised. Quite daring. Now, American Express will reimburse you (up to $300, I believe) if you break something you buy with the card or change your mind and are unable to return it. And that strategy has often given me the piece of mind that allowed for the indulgent impulse buy. But this is taking that concept to a whole new level! And rightly so. Truly brilliant, I think, to address the problem head on. To remove the roadblock on the path to purchase.

So the message was smart, but equally as important was the audacity on the part of both car companies to see this calamity as an opportunity and to finally gain the unique benefit of television advertising without getting lost in the clutter. Did it work? Yes, it did. Both Hyundai and Audi have experienced increased sales in 2009 - an achievement not to be underappreciated.

-- Originally posted May 14, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Hot Buttons

One of my co-workers had a dramatic reaction to an energy drink at work today. She was shaking uncontrollably, got faint and couldn't move. By the time I came out of the conference room, the entire office had circled her desk. They had tucked her into her office chair with a blanket and were feeding her little bottles of water. Her left leg was like restless leg syndrome to the max, but I was told she was doing better than when this started. There was someone from building security who was on his walkie talkie, and they were all waiting for EMS to arrive.

Well, on a few occasions, I have had to call 911 while at home - once for an accident, once for a fire and once for a fainting spell - and the fire engine always arrived in about 7 minutes. However, in this case, it took forty-five minutes for the medics to arrive. My colleague didn't have a doctor to call, and my doctor wouldn't give advice to a non-patient. So, we were all kind of paralyzed, waiting for help. In any case, this extremely long preamble is an intro to some of my hot buttons, i.e., things I wish people didn't do:

I hate it when...

(1) People don't get out of the way for ambulances.

(2) People don't move into the train to let other people get on.
(I WILL mow them down if I have to...)

... I'm sure the others will come to me

The Anti-Foodie...

My Favorite Foods:

I often find myself saying, "This is one of my favorite foods." So I thought I would see whether I can limit my favs to a list of 10. It's not a very healthy list, but oh so good!

(1) Hot fudge sundaes - I don't care how many fancy desserts there are on the menu, this is the best - especially at Cafe Luxembourg

(2) Macaroni and cheese - I lived on this in business school. The real thing - Kraft. Now it's Smart Ones and Amy's soy cheese...

(3) Cherries - better than candy, and because they're available only a few months a year, I never get enough

(4) Chocolate covered strawberries - milk not dark

(5) Jicama - picked that up at Canyon Ranch - doesn't seem to fit with the others, does it...

(6) Brownies - the kind made from the box; none of that fancy stuff - and no nuts

(7) Veal parmigiana - fabulous at Becco - although it's hard to find bad veal parm

(8) Malted milk shakes - Ronnybrook in Chelsea Market - to DIE for!

(9) Brussel sprouts - do you believe me? It depends completely on how they are prepared.

(10) Caramel apples - they have these Wollman Rink. Oh so good.

What are your food favs?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Elevator One-Sheet

With each client engagement, my elevator speech gets more complex and lengthy. At this point, I need a ride to the top of the Empire State Building to do it justice. I specialize in doing something that has not been done before - or that I have not done before. I excel in defining and addressing the unknown. In driving revenue growth and profit improvement. In creative problem solving and in bringing structure to chaos or opportunity. And so, I have attempted to summarize this in a one page graphic.

Does it resonate with you?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Digital Wave and the Google Tsunami

I have 25 1/2 hours to finish Ken Auletta's new book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It" before I meet him for drinks and oversee his speaking engagement. I've read about 8 chapters so far. That leaves a couple hundred pages to go. In the meantime, here are some tidbits I found worth writing down (or the digital equivalent thereof)

Notable Nuggets


Google is run by engineers, and engineers are people who ask why: Why must we do things the way they’ve always been done? Why should all books ever published be digitized? Why shouldn’t we be able to read any newspaper or magazine online…

Founded in 1998. Started turning a profit in 2004

Messing with the Magic

Google in 2002 had scanned or indexed 3.1 billion web pages, about 80% of what was then www. By early 2009 there were an estimated 25.2 billion web pages.

Google decides whethere the link is relevant and assigns it a value. The quantified value is known as PageRank, after Larry Page.

AdWords – allows potential advertisers to bid to place small text ads next to the results for key search words.

The minimum bid per keyword is set by Google. A commonly searched word or phrase like eBay or JetBlue might cost only a penny or two, while a more esoteric phrase like helicopter parts might fetch fifty dollars a click.

In a second advertising program, AdSense, Google served as a matchmaker, marrying advertisers with Web destinations. If Intel wanted to advertiser on technology blogs or a hotel in London wanted ot promote itself on travel sites, Google put them together via a similar automated system.

Google performed several hundred million daily searches in 2003. Today the number is 3 billion.

Google helped advertisers target consumers not just by age, sex, income, profession or zip code, but by personal preferences for leisure time actvities, frequently visited locations, product preferences, news peferences, etc.

From a peak daily newspaper circulation of 63MM in 1984, circulation slid an average of 1% each year until 2004, when the drop became more precipitous.

On a typical night in 1976, 92% of all viewers were watching CBS, NBC or ABC; today, those networks (along with Fox) attract about 46% of viewers.

Old media companies were atrapped in the “the innovator’s dilemma,” what Clayton M. Christensen described in his book of that name, and well-managed companies that, confrtoned by new technologies or new business models, floundered by fierceley defending their existing business models and not changing fast enough.

“Don’t be evil.”

The number one network television program in the 1988-1989 season was “The Cosby Show,” which was watched by 41% of HHs with TV sets; 20 years later, the top show was “American Idol,” it reached just 1/5 of those watching TV.

Most employees are alotted a day a week, or 20% of their time, to work on projects they feel passionate about.

Burning Man – the annual anarchic –animistic retreat in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert that cultimates in the burning effigy of a giant wood and dessert brush “man.”

Starting in a Garage

Bill Gates in 1998: “I fear someone in a garage who is devising something completely new.”

Innovation is usually the enemy of established companies.

Page and Brin met at orientation for incoming Stanford graduate students – 3 years before founding Google in a garage.

Their fathers were college professors, and their mothers worked in science. Both attended Montessori elementary schools.


Messing with the Magic

Eric Schmidt - Chairman and CEO
Sergey Brin
Larry Page

Stacey Savides Sullian – Dec 1999 - #50 – chief cultural officer
Hal Varian – chief economist

Terry Winograd – Larry Page’s graduate school mentor at Stanford

Anne Wojcicki


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pricing in a Downturn

The following excerpt is from a whitepaper written with two of my colleagues at Abbey Road Associates. Abbey Road is a business consulting firm that specializes in pricing strategy. I work with Abbey Road on a project basis. If you would like to read more of this paper, please contact me at karenlevine@abbeyroadassociates.com.

"Quick Checklist for Pricing in a Downturn"

Which pricing strategies address falling demand in an economic downturn? The pundits generally say ‘wake up, pay closer attention to customers, and be more targeted in your pricing.’1 Good ideas certainly, but what should you do specifically? Which price initiatives do, or do not, work?

From working with clients in industries which entered the recession early (e.g., print media, construction and commodity capital goods) we believe there are five key strategies, generally requiring intelligent use of tools, to combat falling revenues. The key to success, in all cases, is not to assume that market-facing management becomes magically smarter. You may need tools to change behaviors.

So, the answers occur in strategy + tool combinations. Most of them focus on understanding the customer buying decision, which is the driver of price sensitivity.
Know the decision, and you can optimize your pricing.

Strategy 1: Adjust your understanding of value and its capture.

With the downturn, the value of your offer has changed both in aggregate, and by component. For many industries the value of your after-sale service has increased, while the value of new widgets has fallen. This is a direct consequence of your customers feeling poorer, or having their budgets cut. While such cuts will preclude purchase of new units or services, the old units are now integral to customers’ businesses, and so must be maintained, recession or not.

Evidence of this sort of shift comes from recent IBM earning results. Unlike its more manufacturing-oriented peers who experienced sharp revenue declines, IBM exceeded earnings because it had shifted its business to over 60% service and lease revenues—which were less subject to capital expenditure cuts.

The tool required to best propel a change in focus is a quantitative assessment of your offer components’ value. That tool may take three forms:

-- A detailed model of your customer’s business, showing how they make financial and purchase decisions
-- Conjoint or other analysis of customer views, or
-- Best of all, a rigorous analysis of customer behavior and testing of purchase/price behavior through regression or similar techniques.

The sooner you understand which categories of spend must continue, and which categories will be cut, the sooner you can adjust your price structure. We have found this analysis produces the best programs for preserving revenues. Often, a price increase on less price sensitive offer elements will offset reduced demand for former flagship products.

In simple terms: assuming your “normal” revenue mix is 70% new sales, 30% follow on, and the recession causes new sales to fall by 20%, we find that often you can make up much of that fall by raising follow-on prices (by as much as 50% in some cases!) Naturally, to avoid customer rebellion, finesse, messaging and superior bundling techniques are required to pull that off.

Strategy 2: Improve the value message.

This strategy is linked to the first strategy; in a nutshell it says that customers do not always realize the value of what you offer. While many sales forces say they sell value, in fact most do not. This is because in good times, in many industries, a sales rep does not do best by selling value. Rather the rep does better by raising awareness and inserting themselves into a buying process. In a downturn, the value communication role becomes more important.

The tool required for this role is to equip and train the sales force with specific messages and evidence of your product’s or service’s value. For instance, surprisingly few companies engage third party evaluators to compare their product with competitors. Credible third party evaluators are plentiful: often university professors will evaluate your product for little more than the cost of samples. Evaluation organizations such as J. D. Powers are very important elements of a value message when customers are parting with their money with increasing care.

Strategy 3: Make a third party pay, e.g., the IRS.

Many companies believe that once the product or service has been delivered, the pricing process is over. Wrong. We find that many buyers are able to obtain reimbursement of their costs, and that a majority of buyers can be educated on the tax consequences of their purchase. You as the seller impact both taxes and reimbursements, and you neglect an important element of net realized price if you ignore these impacts.

The means to effecting this is to understand your customer’s tax or reimbursement opportunities. For instance: if you sell to lawyers who can obtain client reimbursement of electronic research but not books, sell your electronic and print research in bundles and on the invoice allocate most of the price to the electronic. For instance: if you sell bundles of telephone and video services, do not allocate them equally on the invoice. Allocate more of the bundle price to the potentially tax deductable telephone line, and educate customers on why you have done so. A final example: if you are a not-for-profit performing venue selling 10 performance season tickets for $300, and individual performances for $50, then grant season ticket holders who donate back tickets for a performance they cannot attend a tax credit of $50, not $30.

Strategy 4: Better identify customer price sensitivities.

In some cases, a high priority should be to better understand a particular customer’s price sensitivity and the possibility of cancellations and defections. This will identify when you may need to offer a greater discount to retain the business, or when a discount is unnecessary. It takes segmentation and moves it to a more granular level.

The tool is a “risk scorecard” which rates the likelihood of customer cancellation due to price. It takes the collective wisdom of your best sales managers, and some quantitative testing, and distills the 4-6 key measures which precede a cancellation. Such measures might be usage, your price relative to competitors, or the process by which your customer makes buy/cancel decisions. Use of such a card is simple: sales management answers the 4-6 questions, and you get a score which says “Discount X%, Y% or None at all.”

We recommend a simple execution of this tool. The reason for this is that humans know more about key customer price drivers than do your systems. Frequently, the most important inputs to such a tool are known first by sales representatives or brand managers. For instance, a key factor could be a change in how purchases are approved, such as the switch between single decision-maker and committee, or a credit crunch in a particular geography or end user industry.

The benefits of this tool can be enormous. We repeatedly find that less than two-thirds of cancellations are price driven, so should not be addressed through price. Indeed, lowering price can sometimes destroy trust and set in motion further purchase reviews.


1 For instance, the current McKinsey & Company January 2009 Quarterly We suppose the pundits include us, as we wrote Chapter 6. “Boom and Bust” in Winning the Profit Game. Smarter Pricing, Smarter Branding (McGraw-Hill, 2004).

2 The idea is that context sets price. While the customer may buy the same thing as always, the value and ability to price are different. For instance, while the orchestra may be the same, the price of a single performance is not the same as a series. So, if the season pass holder turns back in a single performance, it’s worth $50, not $30 ($300 divided by 10 performances.) This is hard-nosed value assessment.

If you would like to read more of this paper, please contact me at karenlevine@abbeyroadassociates.com.

Copyright Abbey Road Associates 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Dear Bloggitor...

From Edwin Scholte on September 23rd, 2009:

Dear Karen,

Since this did not fit the response box on your blog, and also because I do not want to spam your blog, I am sending you this response by mail.

Thanks for sharing your point of view and experiences about developments in the media industry, very interesting. Allow me to add to the mind-sharing process with a short point of view about how the traditional media industry is faced with a challenging, but exciting quantum leap change in customer demand, while the subsequent required quantum leap change in business model, in many cases, appears to lag behind.

One of the most significant developments in my opinion is the growing divorce of distribution from content creation in the value creation process. This evolution became most visible with the entrance of iTunes into the music industry. The enforced role change of traditional industry players that used to fulfill a dominant role in the entire supply chain of artist intellectual property creation and distribution to end-users, resulted in a halo-effect on related industries in which value creation is (or: used to be) dependant on the connection of intellectual property creation and supply chain control.

Another, but similar, example is the upcoming rise and increased acceptance of e-books in general, and the delivery mechanism thru Amazon’s Kindle in particular. While e-books are not a new phenomenon, the increased acceptance makes this a transformational development that forces traditional book publishers to structurally re-think business models.

It is obviously easy to perform post-mortem analyses that rationalize why things happened the way they happened, however the key forward looking question remains how these developments are truly going to change the game of content creation and distribution in the future.

Most new entrants choose a business model that focuses on either content creation, or distribution. Besides differences in required resources and capabilities, this also makes sense from an investment perspective since both operating model and risk profile of these two structures are fundamentally different from each other. The former business model is mostly being structured around relatively stabile intellectual property driven revenue streams, such as licensing. The latter business model is mostly being structured around relatively volatile traffic driven revenue streams, such as advertising.

On the other hand, most existing players continue to exploit a business model that is a hybrid of structures. Rather than strengthening competitive advantage thru innovation within the core, many mature players in the media industry decided to expand into adjacent sources of non-competitive advantage driven value. Publishing businesses that entered the seminar and conference business form one example, while adjacent advertising models form another example of a commonly exploited incremental revenue generating tactic. As could have been anticipated ahead, in many cases these adjacent value creation tactics turned out to be non-sustainable under pressure (as seen in current economic downturn).

This seems counterintuitive because theoretically established players should be better positioned to win when the core game is changing. The hurdle however is that it would take a ‘strengthening by elimination’ type of strategy to unleash this potential, and such a strategy is usually perceived as a high risk strategy.

When ranking the utility of a ‘doing nothing’ scenario against the utility of making the wrong transformational decision, the typical course of action is a risk-averse staging strategy. This strategy, which parallels the ‘dollar cost averaging’ strategy as known from the investment industry, may be perceived as less risk-full but in fact lacks efficiency and fluidity to take advantage of rapid changes in a value accretive way. Consequently, the only option to end at the winning side of the table is to go all-in with a strong commitment to succeed. Said differently, there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant.

At the end of the day the ultimate question however remains if existing mature players will be able to pro-actively enter the new game with a credible confidence to win, rather than a re-active participation to protect value.

Behavioral finance learns that the fear of losing typically outweighs the desire to gain, but time will tell.

Best, and look forward to read more of your point of views. Edwin.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Mystical Woman with the Camera

As I was walking home from a disastrous date on the opposite side of Manhattan, comforting myself with a podcast of the Rachel Maddow Show, a woman came rushing up to me frantically asking, "Where is the cross town bus? On what street is the cross town bus???" Well, I recognized her from the Harvard Club, but she didn't know me, and I didn't let on. "I don't live on the East side," I said. "I'm sorry" and pulled out my iPhone in a futile attempt to figure out the bus system.

"I'm in a rush," she said. "I have to go see a celebrity." "Oh, who is it?" I asked, not really that interested. "Darryl Hannah," she joyfully replied. "She's at Barnes & Noble."

"Hanna Montana?" I said. "Oh, Darryl Hannah. Yes, my nephew has a photo with her... or is that Bo Derek?"

"Well, how are you getting to the west side?" she asked anxiously. "I plan to walk," I said. "In the dark?" she exclaimed. "No!"

Just then, another ear-budded woman came into my companion's orbit, and she repeated her question, "Where is the cross town bus? Is it on this street or 67th?" The woman couldn't answer her interrogative and so my new companion dismissed her in a way that quite annoyed and antagonized the woman, who exclaimed that she should get a map!

But this did not deter her. "Come with me," she said, as she accosted other people on the street. Finally someone from a crowd yelled after us, "It's on 67th Street."

"Come with me," she repeated, and we hurried to 67th Street. Just as we got there and were trying to ascertain whether there were in fact bus stops on this thin, dark street, I glimpsed a bus, a block away, making its way up the narrow thoroughfare.

With my park-crossing sneakers on, I made good time to 67th and 5th, where I reached the mythical bus-stop. And just as she caught up to me, the bus pulled up and opened its doors. She wasted no time, stepping in front of the patiently waiting bus-riders, and got onto the bus.

At Columbus Avenue, she jumped off the bus and started heading north. "But the entrance is right here," I called after her. "No," she said. "She'll be HERE."

As we turned the corner to the less than savory street, she spotted a town car. Not a very nice one, but nonetheless a black sedan with an ethnically head-dressed driver. "This is it," she said. "All these people are autograph hounds." I looked around at the sparse collection of somewhat seedy individuals.

Just then, a garage door opened that I didn't even know existed, and an entourage of people with incredibly high heels emerged - including Darryl Hannah. The autograph hounds descended, and my new companion nicely asked, "may I take a picture?"

"Of course," said Darryl Hannah, who seemed sincerely sweet despite her stiletto heels. And my friend took three lovely, lovely photos.

With that, my partner in adventure headed south where, she said, the Jonas Brothers were likely to be found. And I walked home in awe of this mystical woman, who seemed to know exactly where to be and when.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More Mortgage Meltdown: Noteworthy Nuggets from a Talk by Whitney Tilson

I've just attended a very interesting lunchtime talk at the New York Society for Security Analysts (NYSSA) and found the speaker not only smart, knowledgeable, informative and interesting but also a source for a number of pithy statements worth sharing. Below are some of my key takeaways and notations:

- The average annual income is currently in the low $40Ks, up from the low $30Ks in the 1990s (I had thought it was $55,000 back in 2005).

- At the peak of the housing bubble, a consumer could borrow 9 times his or her income, so long as the money was going to buy a house (or home), of course. (I included "home" because condos and coops were the first to default.)

- At the peak of the housing bubble, the requirement to demonstrate your income went away. "Literally, if you had a pulse, you could get a mortgage of several hundred thousand dollars."

- Prior to the bubble, 2% a year was the worst increase in home values. The change is now SIGNIFICANTLY negative.

- Mortgage resets are what started the surge of defaults. Following the first few years of "teaser" interest rates, mortgage payments reset to much higher rates. If a home owner couldn't refinance anymore, he or she would default. As home values fell, consumers had trouble refinancing.

- An audience-member from Britain reported that 40% of Americans "in this non-socialist country" do not pay taxes - as part of a question to Whitney during Q&A.

- "Wells Fargo is the Walmart of Banking..."

- "If Wells Fargo is the Walmart of Banking, Citibank is the K-Mart of Banking."

- Wells Fargo securities are likely to double in 4-5 years. (Don't quote me, i.e., Karen, on this.)

- The Borders Group hit 35 cents at its low and reached $3.53 today - a ten-fold increase. (What does that say about the outlook of traditional booksellers and/or Borders' preparation for the digital world - there, I got my allusion to new media in.)

- Mortgages were the largest debt market at the peak of the bubble. Everyone (bankers) wanted in.

- The housing bubble was much bigger than the Internet bubble.

- High end investment bankers, e.g., Merrill Lynch - and particularly CEOs and those in Fixed Income (i.e., securitized loans) were making multi-multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses. 2,000 people were sharing an enormous bonus pool. The average was $5MM, and I-Bank CEOs were earning $35MM a year. There was no way they were going to point out the dangers (and lack of sustainability) of what was going on: "They're gonna ride this horse until it keels over!" (That was one of my FAVORITE quotes from the talk.)

- California accounts for 10% of homes, 33% of foreclosures and 43% of home value. (43%!!! Seriously? Did I hear him correctly? That's out of control.)

- GDP is made up of Consumer Spending, Corporate (Business) Spending and Government Spending. (Wow, I remember those macro-economic equations - good old friends). The ratio is 70:10:20. That is the logic behind the stimulus spending, to make up in some way for the lack of consumer and corporate spending. Saving rates are way up. (As Jeff Sachs said when he spoke at the Harvard Club, we want people to spend - need it now - but we want people to save - personal debt, i.e., over-spending or deficit spending, is what fueled the fire.)

- Sales of new homes were up last quarter - that's because home builders were cutting prices on new homes to get rid of inventory: "Home builders dumping homes are not a green shoot in my opinion." (I like the "green shoot" terminology."

- "Jim Cramer [who says we have hit bottom] is right, but about a year too early." We are halfway through total losses. (Oy Vey.)

And so it goes. Excellent talk.

Friday, July 24, 2009

With All Due Respect...

With all due respect and in my humble opinion, this is something I would advise against including in a dating profile:

"...I love making out, have a passion for running, cooking, baking & movies."

It seems to me that a person should "love" making out with a particular person, not as a independent concept - with all due respect.

Somehow, however this works:

"...I like sex, pizza with real olives, dogs, enough money for a good coffee, accordions, handmade things, good art, bad art that is better than good art, books..."

Women are desperate for men with a sense of humor - that and a good golden parachute.

I must say, I really like turn of phrase at the end of this self-description:

"I am bright, creative, grounded and realistically idealistic."

On the other hand, when a 55 year old man (seeking a woman 35-50) uses the pseudoynm "YoungAtHeart," it doesn't make him seem youthful - in my humble opinion.

It seems that there are some men who feel that there are some women who have misled them through their online dating profiles:

"So I've been on a few dates with women that say they are petite... Being 5'2" or under doesn't constitute petite. Then there are the athletic/lean/fit types. Again...ladies....that means present not 10 yrs ago. And speaking of 10 yrs ago....even if you look younger than you appear... please use today's age not the one represented in your old picture. Now please understand, I'm not perfect nor do I represent perfection...however... what you see is what you get....visually and on paper."

Hmmmm... I wonder what kind of success he's having with that siren's song?

Are these sites spreading love or fueling the jadedness of the local NYC population? Have these online personas become their own bad will ambassadors?

In my case, I seem to benefit from this mass misrepresentation as the men I meet in person profess stunned amazement that I resemble my photos and physical description. One wonders but must be optimistic in the face of such sad, sad tales. On the other side, there are the increasing number of happy couples who are rumored to have met online. Are they the exception or the possibiity?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spot the Placement, Place the Spot

As promised in a previous blog posting, I have created a repository for potential product placement spottings:

(1) My Name Is Earl - a few weeks ago -- QVC open heart necklace

(2) The Wrestler - no obvious product placement; possibly Tylenol or RAM trucks

(3) Sierra Mist on Colbert, Jan 8, 2009 (as you may know, he makes his placements "humorously" obvious)

(4) Elle Magazine on Ugly Betty. This is an ongoing plot element. Is it possible that HFM is paying for this? - Jan 8, 2009

(5) in Zohan: Sony Erickson phone, possibly Moishe's moving (local brand?), possibly Sony, itself. - Jan 6, 2009

(6) In "Taken:" Audi automobiles. Somewhat subtle in that the cars were moving so fast that the grill was a little fuzzy, but still obvious to those of us sensitive to this kind of thing. Confirmed in the credits. Positioning consistent with Super Bowl ad, and cars looked good in silver. Audi and Hyundai are two brands taking advantage of the reduced clutter in automotive TV advertising. It will be interesting to see how it plays out., February 27, 2009

(7) Stephen Colbert, March 11, 2009 - Sierra Mist

(8) Frito Lay on The Daily Show - March 2009 - Jon Stewart suggests sponsored medals of honor. Frito Lay is owned by Pepsi; there seems to be a bundled purchase incorporating brand mentions on both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shows. I remember when sales executives could not fathom the idea of value added packages a la the magazine world. It was 2003.

(9) Stephen Colbert, first week in April -- mention of Sierra Mist during interview with head NAA (Newspaper Association of America) - suggested that newspapers incorporate product placement, e.g., "Obama, while enjoying a refreshing Siera Mist..." (Note that, like Doritos, Sierra Mist is owned by Pepsi. Doritos officially sponsored the "Hail to the Cheese Stephen Colbert's Nacho Cheese Doritos 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage.)

(10) "United States of Tara," April 5, 2009 -- Gene Stuart (Nathan Corddry) asks Kate (Brie Larson) for a Sierra Mist - is it coincidental that Sierra Mist is showing up on Colbert and Tara -- do they have a brand placement strategy, or is it coincidental? Or does Sierra Mist suggest a particular type of personality for Gene -- different than a Coke kind of guy?

(11) "ER," April 2009: In exchange for an undisclosed amount of money from the Gates Foundation, ER's producers agreed to a plot line centering on a kidney transplant for one of the leading characters. Promoting organ donation is one of the Gates Foundation's causes.

(12) Viacom, April 2009 -- The Gates Foundation struck a deal called "Get Schooled" with Viacom (MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, etc.) in which the networks will incorporate messaging that promotes education and healthy living.

(13) Jon Stewart, April 15, 2009 -- uses Tostitos and Buick as hypothetical brand sponsorship. (The Tostitos brand is owned by Frito Lay, which is owned by Pepsi; Colbert's Pepsi chip of choice is Doritos.)

(14) Procter & Gamble - in-school sexual education programs and materials: Old Spice, Always, Secret brands.

(15) Stephen Colbert - Pepsi (I think this mystery has been unlocked long ago.)

(16) Hasbro has upcoming films based on its Transformers and G.I. Joe brands set for release this summer, and Monopoly, Clue and even Stretch Armstrong films are in development. In addition, Hasbro will pay Discovery $300 million for a 50% stake in a new network which will replace the existing Discovery Kids (60MM homes), making Hasbro the first kids' marketer to create a branded cable network. (Ad Age)

(17) KFC Grilled Chicken - "Gary Unmarried" - May 6, 2009 -- not even a little bit subtle. 2 bags, one bucket - huge branding/logos. 60 seconds of dialog about the chicken and the "herbs and spices" including, "doesn't taste like KFC." "It's the new Grilled KFC." The KFC thread follows us throughout the episode including a follow up discussion about the new grilled chicken between Gary and his brother on the floor of a Las Vegas casino.

(18) Stephen Colbert -- Sierra Mist, Sierra Mist, Sierra Mist - consumed 5+ cans over the course of the hour and even offered it to his guest - an expert on healthful eating... That said, Colbert does not sell out as he makes fun of the beverage industry's objection to the currently proposed soda tax.

(19) The Chinese Ugly Betty is evidently out of control with Unilever brand placement of its Dove products. Because the show is set in an ad agency rather than a fashion magazine, there are extensive opportunities for brand integration - much along the lines of our "Mad Men."

(20) Starbucks sponsorship of MSNBC "The Morning Joe" for $10MM (June 5, 2009)

(21) G-Force film in Gary Unmarried episode July 2009 - Gary given the nickname "G-Force" followed within minutes by an ad for the film in the next pod of commercials.

(22) Desperate Housewives - Sprint (Edie's shopping bag) and Lexus (nearly an infomercial by Bree)

(23) During season 6 (Jan. 16 May 23, 2007), American Idol featured 4,349 product placement occurrences. As of March 31, 2008, the number of placements featured during season 7 was surgingAmerican Idol had already racked up 3,291 occurrence (Product Placement News)

(24) Product integration/media buy for final episode - $3MM for 2 minute integration and 30 second spot (iMedia podcast - but I'm blanking on the brand at the moment)

(25) When an athlete, e.g., Tiger Woods in U.S. Open, wears a sportswear brand, the manufacturer enjoys a 10% bump in sales. (July 20, 2009)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Who's Tweeting Now?

This is a Twitter-like blog post about who's doing interesting things with Twitter:

- A program called TweetDeck purports to integrate social net platforms. (Jed Dineen, April 16th, 2009)

- Love this video created for Sprint Now network (4G) http://tinyurl.com/db26ho - cool stats, visuals - "233,267 people just twittered. 26% of you have no idea what that means." (April 7th, 2009)

- Twitter founder interviewed by Stephen Colbert: http://tinyurl.com/cmbqoz (April 3rd, 2009)

- Caldwell and Banker paintings have facebook pages, blogs and twitter feeds (April 1st, 2009)

- Met someone who is creating a twitter-based dating service (April 1st, 2009)

- 100 Twitter tools: http://tinyurl.com/bbkxtb (via @addthis) (March 11th, 2009)

- Evidently Twitter traffic jam was due to Skittles making its home page its Twitter site (March 3rd, 2009, Facebook salesperson)

- I'm told that "tweeting" is the term used for posting a Twitter entry, while "twittering" is the term for reading posts - Cathy Smith, May 2009

- Ian Williams (Twitter co-founder) talking about Twitter's origins and evolution, which has been driven by the way users have adopted and adapted the technology - TED conference, February 2009

- Twitter Value application puts a value on on a Twitter-er based on the quality of the person's network of followers - very interesting BusinessWeek cover story: What Are Friend's Worth. (I've listened to the podcast with journalist Stephen Baker and editor-in-chief John Byrne.) Interesting observation: Yahoo! found that people who IM with each other (via Yahoo) are four times as likely to click through on the same ad as someone outside this circle.

- Dennis Leary asks us to use our "Tweety Pages" (as well as our 'Facey Spaces" and "Bliggidy Blogs") to tell our "book wormy anti- boob-tubey" friends about Hulu so they can watch free TV on the "one screen you drag around with you everywhere." Well written, well executed, thought provoking campaign with a variety of star-driven executions.

- On May 30th, I tweeted the following: "Recently discovered & love this website/podcast series/service: http://www.yogadownload.com/ 20 mins of yoga when I don't have 2 hrs for gym." Almost immediately, the following Twitterers started following my tweets: "Everything Yoga" and "Snack Sound." I, in turn, checked out what they had been tweeting, found it of interest, and started following them. Pinpoint targeting based on behavior and proclaimed interest. Clearly, these other Tweeters have filters in place that notify them when someone uses a relevant key word. And that's how it works.

- 10% of Twitter users create 90% of Twitter activity (Harvard Business Review, June 1, 2009 )

- Onion Web Editor and Huffington Post Blogger Baratunde Thurston created a satirical Twitter Feed called @The Swine Flu and executed an integrated campaign that included FaceBook, which he said is more viral. I have embedded the video "Everything I Needed To Know About Social Media, I Learned from Being @The_Swine_Flu" from InternetWeek; however, I should warn you that it has explicit language:

- Twitter.com had 17.6MM unique visitors in May 2009, up from 600,000 in 2008. This compares to 70.3MM unique visitors for Facebook and for MySpace (17.28MM and 17.25MM respectively). (ComScore, June 15, 2009)

- Putting Twitter into Banner Ads: "Volkswagen banners include a Twitter evaluator that will match users to a VW model based on the content of their Tweets. After you enter your Twitter name, the banner trolls through your recent updates, even floating recent keywords in the banner before arriving at a car." Crispin Porter campaign - summarized by Brian Morrissey, Ad Age, June 18, 2009

- Determined to change the negative perceptions about the plastics industry created by its critics and opponents, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. is getting ready to launch its social media-based Internet campaign aimed at the 50 million people in the millennial generation. The major thrust of the multifaceted educational and outreach campaign will be Internet-based and social media venues like YouTube, flickr, myspace.com, reddit, dig, friendfeed, twitter and blogs to provide information and create conversations among 18-28 year olds. (June 22, 2009 - PlasticNews.com, July 7, 2009 - Ad Age 3 Minute Podcast)

- A Twitter conversation between Coke and Pepsi... (more later - heard about it from a colleague at Razorfish)

This post was originated April 16th, 2009 and is being continuously updated.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The First Nerd President of the Modern Era

As those of you who follow my blog regularly - and I know there are at least five of you... well, at least two... gee, it could be as many as eight-five... but I digress.

Those of you who follow my blog know that one of my favorite means of consuming information and news is the podcast - a medium I enjoy as I travel around the city via subway, bus, and foot - saving me from doing no fewer than two things at a time.

I partake of all kinds of podcasts: AdAge 3 minute casts, Cynthia Turner In Your Ear Cynopses, NYT Front Page, etc. It's like the Cliff Notes of news, except that I don't have to know how to read.

Well, one of the podcasts on my top-ten lineup is "Green 960 - Rachel Maddow," and this afternoon, I had the good fortune of having a business meeting on the east side of Central Park, which compelled me to walk home through the Park. And, hence, I had the opportunity to hear Maddow's rebroadcast of John Hodgman's talk at the Radio and TV Correspondent's Dinner last week.

Barack Obama, with a photo of himself in front of a Superman statue, and a deep knowledge of Star Trek salutes and facts, seems to be the first nerd president. A nerd president being to a jock president what a blogger is to a radio talk show host, gravitating toward "complexity and bookish rumination" rather than "gut instinct, intense confidence and surety." But yet, he plays sports. And not just bowling, but basketball - making Mr. Hodgman's assessment of the president somewhat more complicated. After spending four days in deeply red country as a supremely ill-qualified defender of liberal politics, this was a refreshing return to the familiar territory of satirical blue humor - not to mention a quite comfortable temperature in the 80s rather than the high 90s.

But let's get back to safer territory - for example, Hodgman's direct allusion to social media. Within his overview of the nerd culture, he notes that it has come to pass that "the state of Iran is somehow deeply entwined with the sleep schedule of the programmers of Twitter and Youtube." Phew.

And with that, I hereby share with you Hodgman's quite smart, quite witty, dare I say thought provoking talk at the TV and Radio Correspondent's Dinner. Live long, live hands-free, and prosper:


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making the Big Time at OMMA Social

It seems that one of my early morning questions at the OMMA Social conference yesterday prompted advice that merited a mention by MediaPost. As a business and marketing strategy consultant, I work with clients that range in size from $1MM in revenue to multi-billions. From "Not for Tourists," Campfire and ning to Time Inc., Pillsbury and Scripps Networks. And I work with organizations that are completely immersed in the newest, most bleeding edge innovations to those who are thinking about developing their first digital strategy or figuring out how to translate their print assets to an online environment.

When I attend conferences such as those sponsored by OMMA, CEA and iBreakfast, I am in a world where Twitter, Facebook, iPhone, hash marks, retweeting, and hyper-localization are part of every day discussion. Then I meet with a client in the financial services industry who reminds me that employees of large financial institutions can not access any of these tools while at work due to compliance regulations and Blackberry servers. And I work with another client who feels strongly that the people using these tools and websites are not her core Baby Boomer consumers.

So, how do you bridge that gap? To what extent should we recommend that marketers and publishers who are new to the Internet, let alone social media, focus on these high-impact but low-penetration tools. Twitter has 18MM monthly uniques - with 10% of users creating 90% of content, and there are 17-18MM iPhones worldwide (each is about 6% of the U.S. population) with relatively low median ages - though not as low as you might think.

Well, I've had success with some of my own approaches, but I was interested to ask panelists at the OMMA Social conference this question. And my early morning question to the participants of the panel "Creating an Authentic Brand Dialogue Using Social Media" warranted coverage by MediaPost's Joe Mandese (which I discovered via my daily Google Alert):

"How To Convince Clients To Embrace Social Media: Try Search.

That was the advice Ro Choy, Chief Revenue Officer, RockYou , gave Karen Levine of Triple Play Consulting, when she asked the OMMA authentic panel how she could convince some traditional clients to embrace social media.

Another way to drive that is to do a search for Twitter on your product, Choy said, noting that those clients would see plenty of conversations about their brand taking place on Twitter, and then they could decide for themselves whether they need to be proactive about it or not.

Choy said he recently conducted exercises like that for the Snickers brand, and for the term cat food, and found plenty of discussions taking place that were ripe for social media marketing and sponsorships."

Well, after I heard this very powerful response, I proceeded to Twitter and ran a search on "Harvard Club," which I then forwarded to the head of the Program Committee of the club. Why? Because I wanted him to know that Twitter is not only relevant to Iranian politics but to the members (especially the young members) of the club.

This evening I will have more than 100 members coming to hear Shelly Palmer speak about social media. Some of those members needed to call the Program office to learn how to log onto the new website to make a reservation. Others were born squarely into the digital generation. In fact, this particular program is prompting members to bring their 20-something children to the event, which will lower the median age significantly. I am very curious to see how Shelly addresses this broad set of skills, understanding and objectives, but have little doubt that he will do so successfully.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Can You Summate in 140? Top OMMA Social Takeaways

I've just emerged - well 3 hours ago - from 9 hours of live immersion in social media at OMMA Social - the Online Media, Marketing and Advertising social media conference. Ah, the bliss and the exhaustion. I feel compelled to share my joy with those of you I met today - physically and virtually - and others in the blogosphere. So, I have set myself to creating a list of key takeaways. It will not be easy, I know. But nothing worth doing ever is - or so they say.

I am going to post this blog as a work in progress. And I invite those who were there with me in the Crowne Plaza ballroom - or have watched the video stream - to chime in. You can also relive the live conversation at #OMMASocial on Twitter.


1) The big next thing is hyper-local targeting - particularly via mobile.


2) You have to "have your brand out there" because conversations are going to happen, and if you're not a part of them, "you're going to get left out."

3) Authenticity is crucial. If you don't have it, they will know it.

4) Need to define your personality as a brand in the social media ecosystem - especially important for Twitter.

5) Executive (C-Level) buy-in is essential - need resources to have an effective social media presence.

6) Enroll your entire organization in your social media initiative - strength in numbers.


7) Run a search of your brand or category on Twitter to demonstrate to management that your brand is already part of the conversation.

8) Use Twitter to track comments about your brand and then reach out directly and personally to those who have tweeted, particularly those with problems and complaints.

9) Twitter is a better tool for brands than is Facebook - you can't search "Updates" on Facebook.


10) Use Facebook Connect to get information in not out.

Twitter is a better tool for brands than is Facebook:

You can't search personal updates on Facebook.

Twitter more dynamic - what's happening NOW, and it's less of a build it, and they will come. Once consumers have signed up to be your friend or fan, it is hard to keep them engaged.

While Twitter has 18MM unique users to Facebook's 70MM, it is growing fast. While 10% of Twitter users create 90% of Twitter content, they are influential and passionate.

Facebook users are coming to Facebook to socialize...

"You have to have your brand out there because conversations are going to happen, and if you're not a part of them, you're going to get left out."

In so doing, know that you have to be comfortable being part of the tone of the conversation, "snarkiness rules the day, so you have to be comfortable being part of a snark." (Andy Mitchell, CNN)

This reminds me of an recent cover story interview by BusinessWeek - "The Risk Takers: Hunting for Growth." The author being interviewed compared navigating the economic crisis to driving on ice. The worst thing you can do is slam on your brakes. You have to be willing to give up some control and go with the flow, as it were - hmmm... perhaps I should not attempt to be articulate after 11pm. In any case, I wrote about a related topic in a previous blog about the value of advertising during an economic downturn - based on work I did in 2001.

Authenticity is crucial

Walmart's claim to be green was immediately questioned by the "Mom" blogging community. Just didn't resonate.

Now, this may not be new to you. In fact, Robert Scobel and Shel Israel spoke about this in their 2006 book "Naked Conversations." However, it is crucial.

A powerful way to utilize Twitter is to track your brand and then reach out directly and personally to those who comment, particularly those with problems and complaints.

Craig Engler (Sci Fi Channel - soon to be ScyFy) told a story of Craig Newmark contacting him directly when he posted a tweet about a craigslist problem.

Comcast is the poster child for this practice with their Comcast Cares program - a far cry from the YouTube video of the serviceman sleeping on a customer's sofa. Later in the day, we got to hear from Frank Eliason, Director of Digital Care at Comcast, directly.

It kind of makes you feel that every brand should do this - as a consumer.

Run a search of your brand or category on Twitter to demonstrate that your brand is already part of the conversation.

As Steve Wax of Campfire said on a different occasion - understand what is being said about your brand and then insert yourself into the conversation.

All that said, we need to always keep in mind the self selectivity of Twitter. These are opinion leaders and influencers, yes. But they are also a younger, tech savvy slice of the population, and 10% of those who tweet create 90% of content. For example, when I search for "Harvard Club," I find tweets from recent grads complaining about the dress code. Definitely good insight for those planning for the future of the club, but a biased sample.

Use Facebook Connect to get information in not out.

One of the most powerful uses of social media is research. The listening post application. This reminds me of the days when, as a brand manager, I would periodically listen in on calls to consumer service. You don't want to know the kinds of usage questions that consumers asked about Vaseline skin care products!

...more later

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I Want My Allman B - And I'm Willing To Pay!

How unreasonable is the idea of getting paid for your digital content or services? Let's see who's doing it:

Moogis: Video streaming of Allman Brothers concerts - $125 annual subscription, $15 for individual concerts. Moogis offers subscribers streaming video access to entire live concerts, both in real time and on-demand from its archives. Moogis.com provides a gathering place for subscribers, a social website where fans can create their own profiles, join discussion groups, hang out with like-minded folks and "share the communal experience that music inspires." Quote from one subscriber: "I was able to get an early bird discount of $100 when it first came out. It was the best $100 I've spent." Clearly, people will pay for value and for things about which they are passionate. (June 2009)

Flat World Knowledge: Offers free online college text books and charges for premium options and services. Students can review the books for free or pay as little as $20 to print out a tome or $30 to download an iPod-ready audio file. Other paid services include open source student-generated study aids fueled by creative-commons licensing. Teachers can also customize text books for a fee. As of October, the company had signed contracts with 29 authors to write some 20 books. It recently raised $8MM in venture capital funding. Keep your eye on this. It's extremely exciting and disruptive. (June 2009)

ESPN Magazine: Put everything behind a paid wall as explained here - "ESPNTheMag.com and ESPN Insider Merge: ESPNTheMag.com has hooked up with the folks at Insider to create a sports content supergroup, where Insider's traditional next-level analysis is paired with ESPN The Magazine's unique storytelling and insight. As of Friday June 5, ESPNTheMag.com ceased to exist as we know it, but the site's signature pieces and voice continue to live on the Insider page." Existing Magazine subscribers can upgrade to ESPN Insider at no extra charge. Non-Magazine subscribers are invited to, "See what you're missing at ESPN Insider." (June 2009)

Guide to Trekking Locations in the U.S. (Gorp?): $50 per year - I am told that a printed guide book turned out to be more helpful (e.g., finding hiking trails that are dog-friendly). Only benefit to online subscription is being able to print out a few pages rather than carrying or photocopying book. Also, info about other regions of the country, but that was not relevant because the hiker I spoke to only hikes locally. Net, net, it wasn't worth it for her. It's all about execution. (June 2009)

20 Minute Yoga Download Podcasts: Voluntary micro-payments via paypal go to charity (May 2009)

Weight Watchers: Weight Watchers Online is a customized online weight loss plan that you follow step-by-stop completely online. You manage your results at your own pace, on your own time. It (a) includes a set of interactive tools to help its members stay on track, (b) manages weight loss daily and (c) provides customized sites for men & women to meet individual needs. There is a sign up fee of $29.95 and a monthly fee of $16.95. (June 2009)

Teri's List and Grocery Game: Teri’s list provides “rock bottom” prices on a range of grocery products each week and matches them with the manufacturer coupons to help the user get the best savings at the user’s local supermarket. The Grocery Game utilizes databases that track manufacturers’ coupons along with weekly sales and specials, both advertised and unadvertised. It then presents this analysis in a quick reference format on the Internet each week. Members log in to access and print the info and offers. Here's an explanatory video. (June 2009)

Monday, June 1, 2009

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

My high school Latin teacher, Mr. Fiorella, used to say that a day in which you don't learn something new is a day wasted. Thanks to the my continued addiction to audio podcasts, I am continuously learning. These are a few of my favorite pods:


Advertising Age's Daily "Three Minute Ad Age" and other audio reports
- I fall in love with these a little more each day.
- Recommend "Inside the Mommy Blogger Business," which includes a discussion of the Walmart Eleven Moms blogging hub.

Cynopsis Digital:
Alas, this was discontinued making it "Can't Have."

20 min. Yoga Sessions from YogaDownload.com
LOVE it. Can actually find 20 minutes for a yoga session - as opposed to the 2 hours required to take a 90 minute class at the gym.

New York Times Front Page:
GREAT way to stay on top of top news stories in the five minutes it takes to go from the doors of my elevator to the doors of the 1-2-3 subway line.


MediaBytes with Shelly Palmer - New Media News - Audio:
Be sure to adjust your volume level for this enthusiastic daily report


Cynopsis In Your Ear:
Crucial daily update if you're in the cable TV space. If I had not listened today, I might have canceled my HBO subscription, not realizing the Bill Maher is coming back on air this week.

Satellite Guys.US - Satellite Guys Podcast:
Long and rambling. Essential when I was working on a pricing strategy for a cable TV network. Not highly relevant at the moment.


Apple Quick Tips:
Very helpful - video - short & sweet


BusinessWeek -- Cover Stories:
LOVED "What's a Friend Worth?" story that puts a dollar value on an individual's social network (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)
"The Risk-Takers" is worth a listen
"Could Google Fix Detroit" is a very interesting interview with "What Would Google Do?" author Jeff Jarvis

Today's Business:

On the Media:
Many of these are about journalism rather than the business side of media; however, there was a very interesting piece about Twitter last summer. Bob Garfield is always entertaining and interesting - and super nice in person.

Weekend Business:
Long, in depth.


The Economist:
Always good to get a non-American perspective

Green 960 - Rachel Maddow:
Long but interesting

The Kelly Morris Yoga Podcast

President Obama's Weekly Radio Address:
Often captures key addresses

Real Time with Bill Maher:
Loses something without the video

The Tudors:
Good to have when you're waiting to be served at the Time Warner Cable office - video version. iTouch has incredible video quality. Not as visually explicit at the TV version, however. (Tudors is a little like soft porn.)

60 Minutes Podcast - The Full Broadcast:
A little difficult without the video.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


A few more tidbits from the digital dating ecosystem:

Ok, gentleman, humility and even self-effacement can be nice, but I advise leading with something stronger than this:

"If you're a single woman who wants to have children and isn't looking for the perfect guy, I may be exactly what you need!"

And this - an e-mail received by a colleague of mine - is not a good tactic - though it is a good example of a phenomenon in which people feel comfortable writing something in an e-mail that they would not say in person (or so I hope):

"Greetings - So - how goes it? It's me... the tall, slim gentleman who was blatantly hitting on you yesterday evening as we both exited Cafe Luxembourg. Yes, I thought you looked quite sexy and enticing in your hat and halter top (or was that a kind of semi-halter top?) Anyway, your face, your hat, and your boobs all looked quite appealing (ha ha ha). I hope to God you've got a sense of humor.

At any rate, I certainly enjoyed our brief flutter of conversation, and, speaking for myself at least, I'm sure I would enjoy making acquaintance with your face, your hat, and your...um...halter top sometime soon. Coffee at a coffee shop that appeals to you perhaps? Un verre du vin rouge over at Luxembourg perhaps? Whatever suits your fancy - and I look forward to hearing more about [your job]. Please feel free to e-mail me at the above Columbia University address, or, better yet, feel free to ring me.... Many thanks for being relaxed and, perhaps, receptive et cetera..."

*As a minor point, my colleague was wearing a plain old tank top - no halter involved.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dear Senator...

I was recently invited by the Fibrous Dysplasia/McCune Albright Syndrome Association to contact my Congressmen as well as those on the Appropriations Committee to encourage economic support of research related to these physical maladies. I must admit, other than a "Friend of the Court" brief I submitted to the Supreme Court in high school, I do not recall participating in this kind of effort.

My mother took the request very seriously. She spent a day and a decent amount of money on postage writing these letters, printing them out and mailing them. Another recipient of the request agreed to write the notes, e-mailed them to my mother and asked that she submit them. There must be an easier way, I thought. And so there was.

When I scrolled down to the bottom of the request, I found links to the websites of each of the relevant Congressmen. These took me to a form in which I could cut and paste my note. (I later took this opportunity to teach my mother how to cut and paste.) Some of the Senators asked me to categorize or tag my note according to a pre-set or fill-in-the-blank set of topics. All in all, it was somewhat enlightening.

This is what I wrote:

FY10 Appropriations for National Institutes of Health & NIDCR

Dear Senator/Representative __________:

I’m writing to thank you for your service to me and your other constituents and to ask for your support and for your recommendation that the NIH expand research on fibrous dysplasia and McCune-Albright syndrome (FD/MAS) within the NIDCR, as well as, through trans-NIH initiatives.

Fibrous Dysplasia/McCune Albright Syndrome is a rare genetic non-inherited syndrome caused by a chance mutation in GNAS coding for the protein Gs alpha. FD/MAS is characterized by fibrous dysplasia (fragile bones), endocrine and other problems and cafĂ©-au-laits. It’s progressive and has no cure. Practically speaking for bones there is no treatment outside of surgery that in severe cases oftentimes fails.

My nephew, Dylan Levine, was diagnosed with Fibrous Dysplasia at the age of three. He had been suffering with it for years but was too young to communicate with us about the pain he was in. We realized at that young age that he had a break in his bone that was almost impossible to detect. It was the first of many broken bones as this disease spreads within his bones and makes them fragile - they can break due to physical stress or for no apparent reason at all.

At the age of 16, Dylan has had more than 30 major surgeries. Often, he is confined to a full or partial body cast during the period of excruciatingly painful recovery. The last time he had surgery, the metal rod that was prepared to be inserted into his leg to strengthen it was the wrong length, and within a year, the surgeons had to break his leg again and reinsert a new rod. I am told that Dylan is in extreme pain nearly every minute of every day, something that I cannot imagine, and something, which, he somehow hides from me when I see him.

Despite all of this, Dylan has become an incredible wheelchair athlete and an inspiration to able bodied and disabled children and athletes around the world. Still, it saddens me every day to know that he is in a wheelchair, that the disease may spread or get worse at any moment, that he is in ongoing pain and that at any point, he may need to go in for another major operation and recovery. It grieves me further to know that we know so little about this disease - how it came about and what can be done to control or cure it. Because it is such a specific disease, it is not profitable for the private sector to invest in its research. That's why your support is so important.

I seek you help for all children and adults living with FD/MAS. Equity of care and better treatments will only happen with research, symposiums and greater medical awareness and collaboration – and who knows what opportunities and new possibilities for discovery might come about.

Specifically, I ask that you
(1) Increase sustained funding for NIH beginning with a 10 percent increase for FY10 to ensure that the medical research supported by the $10 billion in stimulus aid is as far-reaching and life-changing as possible,
(2) Recognize and thank the scientists, researchers and scholars of NIDCR for their significant work on FD/MAS,
(3) Request that the NIDCR continue and expand their intramural and extramural research on FD/MAS, and
(4) Request that the NIH continue and expand trans-NIH initiatives on FD/MAS. I appreciate so much what you’ve done for FD/MAS in the past, please continue your support and fight for these children and adults.

Should you feel so motivated, I invite you to submit your own letter - feel free to cut and paste as much as you like from my own - to members of the Appropriations Committee and/or your own Senators and Representatives. (I would be happy to provide you with the links.)

I hope you will help.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Future of Print and Other Ponderous Questions

I recently spoke with a senior editor at a top business magazine that is just now co-locating digital and print editorial staff. (Something the NYT found to be of great value several years ago.) He commented that he did not find this integration necessary, digital is for daily news reporting, and magazines are for deeper analysis and insight. He explained that writers should work their way up from digital to print in the same way they graduate from news reporting to feature stories.

Steeped in tradition as that sounds, I think that online writers should learn to be more insightful in their writing, bringing something more to the medium than reporting, which makes their site easily substitutable. The challenge becomes how to offer added value online without "stepping on" the deeper, more sophisticated content of the magazine. After all, we do want a reason for people to continue buying magazines. It's good to have a stronghold in both media; at the very least, this allows for multiple touch points and mutual cross-promotion.

Tina Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of "The Daily Beast" and an industry veteran who has made a stupendous transition from print to digital. Tina spoke with me recently about the importance of preventing magazine content from leaking before the publications hit newsstands - and the difficulty of accomplishing this. This is an important consideration for magazines that invest heavily in newsbreaking stories. I think, for example about Vanity Fair's unveiling of "Deep Throat." This is challenging because of the extraordinary lead time of magazines, one element of which includes the week or so it takes to print and distribute the "books." I recall a controversy a few years ago in which a woman gained access to BusinessWeek stock picks before they became public and made quite a bit of money leveraging this information.

So, how do we protect the unique value of the printed journal - recall Conde Nast's positioning of "Portfolio Magazine," a daring introduction to the Business Magazine space a few years ago - while also providing differentiated online content - differentiated from the magazine and from other online news sources? This remains one of several "ultimate" questions that face us in the 21st century:

"How will we turn the tremendous value of the Internet into tangible value for its (initial) creators?"
"Do we need professional journalists - of the kind that win Pulitzer prizes - and, if so, how will we be able to afford them?"
"What is the meaning of life?"
"What is the right media mix for an advertiser?" - hmmm... I digress

Returning to one of my earlier posts, the question is currently facing us regarding the possibility of consumer-supported content. iTunes has succeeded with "micro-payments." However, will people be willing to pay for "disposable" content? They might pay for a song or musical collection (formerly called "CDs") that will bring them continued enjoyment, often for decades. And they will pay (at least up until now...) for books, which offer hours of enjoyment and may be written in, passed along and reread. Will they pay for an article they might prefer skimming and that has an ephemeral value?

Publishers like The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Advertising Age have demonstrated that it is possible. As have information providers like Hoover's, Consumer Reports, eMarketer, Forrester, Lexis Nexis, etc. What differentiates these publishers from The New York Times, which has struggled with this question for years? The answer is, indeed, differentiation - at least part of the answer. The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have differentiated themselves enough that if they put the content behind a walled garden, their readers will feel a loss that can not be substituted for by another publisher.

This is similar to the loss I have felt since Cynthia Turner discontinued her daily digital news podcasts. I have attempted to replace this news source with Shelly Palmer's broadcasts, with NYT podcasts, with Ad Age Three Minute reports, but I continue to be less informed and less satisfied than I was. It seems that Cynthia tried to support this content/investment through an advertising model but was not successful. Personally, I would have paid for it. But are there enough Karen Levines to have supported it. Perhaps not. Perhaps the content is too targeted. Perhaps it was not promoted to enough people that share my need for it.

In any case, the WSJ, the Financial Times (I believe) and The Economist offer something to a loyal reader base that they cannot find elsewhere. Another factor that comes into play here is the relative investment required. I believe that all three of these come for free with a print subscription. Perhaps the subscription line of revenue for these publications is larger than newsstand. I would certainly find this easy to believe for The Economist as all the Economist subscribers I know watch their mailboxes longingly a day or few before the magazine is scheduled to arrive. (One actually bought an issue at newsstand on an occasion when it was available there first.)

So, in those cases, there is no incremental cost to those who subscribe. And those who pay the money to subscribe do so because the relative expenditure is low given the value. For example, many of these readers are affluent or are able to expense or write off this expenditure.

Now the New York Times does not have this luxury. If it puts its massive amount of content behind a wall, readers will find substitutes. And although some elements of the paper cannot be substituted for, e.g., Frank Rich's column, which can often be accessed via unauthorized sources such as blogs - something pointed out to me by Frank Rich. (Of course, this can be addresses via the right technology, a lengthy and expensive investment that accounts for the success of some of the publishers mentioned above.)

And there you have my thoughts for the day on just one aspect of the ponderous question of the ages: "How will print publishers adapt and survive?"