Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Facebook the Top Social Media Tool During the Olympics

Video Blog: The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation Aspire Gala

Google Buzz: Next Great Social Networking Tool

Targeting the “End User” with your PR efforts

Incorporating Social Media Marketing into Proposals

Andrea Kunicky Talks About Being Selected as Top Single

Athletes Becoming Reporters: the Ochocinco News Network

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gilbert Arenas Op-Ed a Step in Right Direction

I was pleasantly surprised when I read the op-ed section in this morning’s Washington Post and came across a piece from Gilbert Arenas, who recently plead guilty to a felony count of carrying a pistol without a license. The professional basketball player for the Washington Wizards was suspended by the NBA for his actions.

I say pleasantly surprised because all of his prior activity has been questionable at best. He's exhibited disrespectful behavior to the very serious gun safety issue in society today, particularly in his hometown of Washington D.C.

However, in this op-ed, Gilbert acknowledges how serious of an issue this is in today’s society and he apologizes for his recent poor decisions, expressing regret and humility. He goes on to title his op-ed “Learning to be a better role model." The op-ed was very sincere and showed an important first step in a long rebuilding process with fans, the Pollin family, the Washington Wizards and the NBA. He writes:

That message of nonviolence will be front and center as I try to rebuild my relationship with young people in the D.C. area. I know that won't happen overnight, and that it will happen only if I show through my actions that I am truly sorry and have learned from my mistakes. If I do that, then hopefully youngsters will learn from the serious mistakes I made with guns and not make any of their own. I am trying hard to right my wrongs… But if I help steer even just one young person away from violence and trouble, then I'll once again feel that I'm living up to Abe Pollin's legacy and to the responsibility I owe the kids of the District.

It took Arenas longer than it should have for him to come out with a message like this, but at least he's doing it now.

From a PR perspective, choosing to share his message through an op-ed piece with a local, respected newspaper is a safe play… one that I think was effective in this situation. However, the game has just begun for Arenas.

It’s now time to continue showing respect for such an important issue in society and take advantage of this unfortunate opportunity he’s put himself in. He now must use this situation to not only stress the importance of gun safety to children, but to also become the role model he says he wants to be.

Matt Saler is an Account Executive. You can contact him at matt@maroonpr.com.

Newsday Pay Wall Having Limited Success

I wrote a blog last week that detailed The New York Times strategy to start charging its subscribers to read NYTimes.com stories. In that post, I mentioned that many other newspapers would be watching to see what type of success The Times has doing this, as it could show whether online readers would be willing to pay for something that they were used to getting for free.

In October 2009, Newsday - a Long Island daily newspaper that has a top-12 national circulation - put Newsday.com behind a pay wall. According to The New York Observer, the number of subscribers to Newsday.com after three months is remarkably low.

So, three months later, how many people have signed up to pay $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get unfettered access to newsday.com?

The answer: 35 people. As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.

That astoundingly low figure was revealed in a newsroom-wide meeting last week by publisher Terry Jimenez when a reporter asked how many people had signed up for the site. Mr. Jimenez didn't know the number off the top of his head, so he asked a deputy sitting near him. He replied 35.

According to the story, web traffic to Newsday.com has seen a sizable hit. In October, Newsday.com got 2.2 million unique visits. In December, just 1.5 million. Page visits normally equal advertising dollars, so the switch to a pay model may ultimately do much more harm to the bottom line than good.

What this means for The New York Times isn’t yet clear. The Times is much more of a national newspaper, so it’s possible that its far-reaching audience will be more willing to pay for the paper’s content. And not to take anything away from Newsday, but The Times is known for having some of the best reporting and stories of any newspaper in the country.

Still, I would have to think that The Times is paying very close attention to what ramifications Newsday will see from forcing online readers to pay.

I ended my New York Times post by asking how much true journalism was really worth.

Apparently not that much.

Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. You can contact him at stefen@maroonpr.com.

The Sad Rantings of Paul Shirley

Paul Shirley is a former professional basketball player, and has also blogged and written for various websites, including ESPN.com

Yesterday a “journalist” named Paul Shirley wrote a column where he said that he would not donate to the Haiti relief effort and wondered why anyone would.

I invite you to read the entire article and form your own opinion, but essentially, he said that he cannot understand why no one has admonished Haiti the country for being structured in such a way that it would be destroyed completely by this earthquake.

One of the most hurtful passages from Shirley’s column:

Dear Haitians –

First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.

As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?


The Rest of the World

I’ve heard some people question the Haitian government and its lack of effort to help its country improve. It is the poorest country in the hemisphere and has been so for quite some time.

That said, at this time that issue is completely irrelevant. That is something that should and will be dealt with down the line when the country and its citizens are back on their collective feet. Currently we have over 100,000 people dead and 10s of thousands missing. What we should do, what we always do and what we have done as Americans is step up.

The outpour of support has truly made me proud to be an American. It doesn’t matter how much you make, what you believe, or how you identify yourself; everyone has stepped up in some way to help. This has led to hundreds of millions of dollars in donations, volunteerism, and meaningful and necessary deployment of our military personnel.

Now is not the time to stand on some imaginary pedestal and point out Haiti’s flaws. Now is the time to help. Sometimes we forget just how lucky we are to live in the United States, a country that allows us every opportunity to elect our officials, make our way in the world and determine our own fate.

As an American I am very proud of our country and so proud that in times like this we have shown to be the most caring and generous nation in the world. The way we have answered the bell, yet again, is another reason to be proud of this country.

Mr. Shirley, I live by the creed that if you can give to someone in pain, someone in need, or someone who is suffering; you should do so. No questions asked and no recognition sought. Many others share this viewpoint. For whatever reason, you don’t seem to feel the same way.

We don’t need columns admonishing Haiti and the Haitian people.

We need to help save lives.

John Maroon is the President of Maroon PR. Contact him at john@maroonpr.com.

You can donate to help Haiti by visiting the Red Cross or Unicef, by clicking the links.

The Pros & Cons of Having No Barriers To Entry

The Mark McGwire admission to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for 10 years has obviously been a huge story and has rekindled the steroids in baseball discussion. Overall these revelations and this discussion is a good thing, however, there is a downside.

With anyone and everyone having a blog these days there has been some very irresponsible postings. Everyone is now ready to pass judgment on a number of athletes and accuse them of using PEDs despite the fact that there is zero evidence indicating such use. Primarily, I am speaking about my client and friend Cal Ripken, Jr.

There have been several recent blogs that have suggested that Cal may have used PEDs. These blogs are run by some who are supposed to be credible like Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald but many who simply consider themselves experts because they like baseball (or hate baseball) and they have an opinion.

The thing that these bloggers don’t keep in mind or don’t care about is that this is hateful, hurtful and based on nothing. Cal has stated time and again that he never used steroids, he never got larger late in his career or hit a crazy amount of home runs, etc.

Athletes like Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter should be celebrated now more than ever not looked at with suspicion because some guy with a computer has an uninformed opinion. And there is the problem. There is no barrier to entry anymore. You used to have to be a part of a legitimate news gathering agency to be heard around the world and now you just need a computer and some time.

Overall the world of social media and blogs has been a wonderful thing. But there is a downside, and that is a lack of accountability and no barrier to entry.

John Maroon is the President of Maroon PR. Contact him at john@maroonpr.com.

(Photo Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

It’s Time to Talk About the Past: Mark McGwire’s Steroid Admission & Media Strategy

Last week, former Major League Baseball player Mark McGwire admitted he used performance enhancing drugs during his career. The admission by the onetime single-season homerun leader did not surprise many as there had been a cloud of speculation surrounding the subject for over a decade. Rather, it is the manner in which “Big Mac” chose for coming clean and his statements about steroids having no effect on his performance that have drawn the most scrutiny, especially in the public relations industry and by the media, which The SportsBusiness Daily's Erik Swanson wrote about earlier this week.

We are a society that loves to forgive our athletes and celebrities. We want them to tell us they are sorry, make us believe in their contrition and choose to give them another chance. The owner of the top selling jersey in the NBA, Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant, and 2010 Golden Globe winning actor Robert Downey, Jr. validate that point.

And when they apologize to us, we don’t want to just see statements on Internet sites (yes, we’re talking to you Tiger Woods) or a press conference where they read a prepared statement. A true apology comes from the heart, not a typed sheet of paper.

All that being said, McGwire coming forward on the issue was the right thing to do, especially as he prepares to return to MLB this year as the St. Louis Cardinals’ hitting instructor. Without this admission, spring training would have been a media circus and he would have been a huge distraction to the team. Questions will still arise in camp, but the amount will be greatly diminished now that McGwire has spoken about his steroid use.

Once he made the decision to speak, it was imperative to develop a plan for how and where the message would best be delivered. According to The New York Times, McGwire hired former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer to help him to do just that. The strategy involved exclusively breaking the news with an Associated Press (AP) story, followed that evening by a sit-down television interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network.

Considering the magnitude of the story and its far reaching appeal, many public relations professionals argue that breaking the story with the AP made sense. However, the case exists that McGwire’s strategy may have been better suited to also include The St. Louis Post Dispatch. This outlet was the local paper covering him during the latter part of his controversial career as a player, and is the hometown paper for where McGwire is now employed. Media feeds off media, and in today’s instant news and Internet-driven world, the print story would have garnered similar coverage and generated stories in other mediums, while taking care of a key local media outlet in the market where McGwire played and will coach. In our day and age there is no such thing as “local” press… everything is instantly shared via social media and the internet. I am guessing that the St. Louis media felt slighted by McGwire, and for good reason.

At Maroon PR, we always stress to our clients that it’s important to never forget or overlook the media where they live, work, run their business, etc. For example, when Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record and when he was selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he carved out time for each of the local networks in Baltimore and Washington, DC. When Team USA forward Carmelo Anthony won a gold medal at the 2008 summer Olympics, he returned to his hometown of Baltimore to meet with the media and discuss the achievement.

The second part of McGwire’s strategy was granting the first television interview to Costas. The SportsBusiness Daily cited a source close to the strategy as saying Costas would have been the first choice, regardless of the network for which he worked. Nonetheless, MLB Network getting the interview was a major land for the young, league-owned network and the choice of Costas as the interviewer was a good one by McGwire’s team.

Costas himself has practically become a brand. From anchoring NBC’s Olympic and Sunday Night Football coverage, to his MLB Network show and previous experience with HBO, he’s well respected as a journalist and provided McGwire with a credible avenue for his admission. Choosing a person they knew would serve “softball” questions and not probe McGwire would have been ineffective. You may recall that many in the media felt ESPN’s Peter Gammons (now at MLB Network by the way) was too easy on Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez during their television one-on-one in February 2009 when he admitted to taking steroids. But Costas’ questioning of McGwire was determined and inquisitive, while not attacking. Public perception of the validity of McGwire’s admission is also aided when the audience believes the interviewer is reliable and legitimate. Another example of someone who did this effectively is Michael Vick when he sat down with James Brown for a 60 Minutes interview prior to his return to the NFL after a dog-fighting scandal and prison term.

Managing the distribution and ensuring the message was delivered effectively were the two key pieces of the strategy regarding McGwire’s admission. Therefore, a press conference would not have been the appropriate strategy. Between the massive amount of media who would converge on the event and the format a press conference provides, it would have been impossible for the “human element” of the story to be conveyed.

Moving away from the strategy, McGwire made some critical missteps during the interview itself. He did appear emotional, repeatedly said he was sorry and apologized to the people he “let down.” However, his insistence that his records were “completely legit” and that his hand-eye coordination and God-given ability were not aided by his use of PEDs was a mistake. If you are going to apologize, go the whole way. Don’t diminish your remorse by saying injuries made you do steroids and that your performance wasn’t impacted by their use. Through these statements, and his mention of the Hall of Fame, McGwire diminished his contriteness and missed a golden opportunity to get everything out in the open and truly move on from the subject.

Tim Richardson is the Executive Vice President of Maroon PR and oversees the Sports & Entertainment Division. You can contact him at tim@maroonpr.com.

Social Media Aids Haiti

For the past week, the devastation caused by the earthquakes in Haiti has been all over the news and there have been a number of requests encouraging people to make donations to aid victims. One of the most effective ways of donating to Haiti relief has been via social networking sites and mobile communications. ABC news shared a story online about celebrities and their efforts to raise money, in particular Wyclef Jean and his Yele Haiti Foundation.

According to the ABC News report:

Many of the celebrity tweets are directing people to Jean and his Yele Haiti Foundation. Users of mobile devices can make an instant donation of $5 to the charity by texting ‘Yele’ to 501501. The charge later will appear on the donor's telephone bill.

In only one day, twitter followers had donated over $1 million to the Yele Haiti Foundation.

After news broke of the earthquake, celebrities used their Facebook and Twitter accounts to ask for help from their millions of followers. In less than 48 hours, UNICEF raised over $3 million with the help of celebrities and their tweets, and the American Red Cross tweeted that in only four hours they raised over $7 million.

Social media vehicles provide a convenient and safe way to be part of the Haiti relief process. The disaster in Haiti is heartbreaking, but the promise that through this tragedy social media has the ability to reform the way donations are reaching its victims is empowering.

Abby Draper is an Associate Account Executive. You can contact Abby at abby@maroonpr.com.

Ed. Note – Wyclef Jean’s foundation has been in the news lately as it was reported by TheSmokingGun.com that Jean’s foundation had paid some of its funds for Jean’s personal use. Jean denies the claims. For more, click HERE.

You can donate to the Red Cross or Unicef, by clicking the links.

NYTimes.com to Start Charging for Online Content

In August 2009, David Simon – the creator of the critically acclaimed HBO television show “The Wire,” top-selling author, and former reporter for The Baltimore Sun – penned a story for the Columbia Journalism Review that urged newspapers to make a major change in how readers access their online articles.

Simon urged The New York Times and The Washington Post, two of the biggest and most well-respected newspapers in the country, to start charging for their online content. He was one of the most vocal in defending the value of true, long-form journalism, and has argued that newspapers giving away their product for free will just continue to lead to plummeting circulation and advertising dollars. This cycle will eventually lead to newspaper’s ultimate demise.

For the past year, The Times has wrestled with the idea of going to some form of a pay site. NYTimes.com is one of the most popular websites on the internet, but their online advertising didn’t result in a big enough profit for The Times company.

It was reported yesterday by NYMag.com that The Times may have finally decided on a way to make readers pay for content.

New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations. After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.

If this does occur, it could have a major ripple effect in the newspaper industry. Every newspaper around the country will be watching The Times to see if this works, as the major argument against having pay sites is whether readers would be willing to pay for something that they’re so used to getting for free.

The final decision could come this week, with a formal announcement to come within the next few weeks. According to the story, The Times wouldn’t start charging for content for months (perhaps starting in the spring).

The decision to go to a pay-site was not an easy one. Top-level employees at The Times had been debating the decision for the last year, with those that advocated to stay free citing the growth of the website, and the possibility of big profit coming in the future from web advertising.

The argument for remaining free was based on the belief that nytimes.com is growing into an English-language global newspaper of record, with a vast audience — 20 million unique readers — that, [Times digital chief Martin] Nisenholtz and others believed, would prove lucrative as web advertising matured. (The nytimes.com homepage, for example, has sold out on numerous occasions in the past year.) As other papers failed to survive the massive migration to the web, the Times would be the last man standing and emerge with even more readers. Going paid would capture more circulation revenue, but risk losing significant traffic and with it ad dollars. At an investor conference this fall, Nisenholtz alluded to this tension: "At the end of the day, if we don't get this right, a lot of money falls out of the system."

Nisenholtz’s argument certainly has tremendous merit, and if the pay-site idea fails, it may be difficult to earn back a lot of the readers that NYTimes.com currently gets. The huge declines in advertising from the recession last year put pressure on the newspaper to act now with their pay idea or risk even more profit declines that they wouldn't be able to withstand.

Simon and others in favor of newspapers charging for their content ultimately got their wish and now we’ll see what impact this will have on the industry. With so many people used to getting online newspaper content for free – like readers, bloggers, online news sites, etc. – will those people be willing to pay for the written word?

At the very least, this model may help to answer the question: How much is true journalism really worth?

Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. You can contact him at stefen@maroonpr.com.

How Spam Affects PR and the Future of Email

Public relations is predicated on relationships, and in most cases, PR professionals try to make contact with reporters, producers and editors on a one-on-one personal level. A pitch is much more effective when you actually try to form a relationship with a contact, and find out what types of news they’re interested in.

Occasionally though, we have to get news out to a large group of contacts. We may have news that is pertinent to an entire city, state or region, and when this is the case, it can be inefficient to reach out to each particular contact personally.

This is where the terms “mass email” and “blast email” come in. Sometimes when we have one press release or media advisory that is going out to numerous different contacts, we’ll send out one or two emails with many of the contacts addressed on the same email. This is a practice we try to do as infrequently as possible, but sometimes it’s the only necessary means of distributing news, and is done by just about every PR firm.

The obvious problem with doing this is it takes away that personal contact, which public relations professionals thrive on. But a problem that many forget is that blast emails can also have issues being delivered to their intended recipients. There’s always a possibility that these emails will get filtered to a contact’s “spam” or “quarantine” folder, with the contact never even getting a chance to read our email.

I spoke with Toby Musser, the CEO of MNS Group, about the problems that arise with emails going into spam, and the future of sending out emails in general. Below is our Q & A. MNS Group provides managed IT services to small businesses with five to 2,500 computers. Musser has been a top-level executive at the company since 1997.


What are some of the dangers of sending out “blast emails” to contacts?

TM - Well the first thing you should understand is that two things happen when spam email comes in. Some go to a person’s spam folder, and the others the server throws away; the user never sees it. It’s just deleted.

If you had to ballpark it, how much email being sent out can be considered spam?

TM - It’s a pretty large number. 85% or more of all email sent on the internet is spam.

Occasionally in our business we have to send out blast emails. How many people do you recommend Cc’ing or Bcc’ing when we have to do this?

TM - If you want to be safe, never do more than 10 people at a time. Many companies turn up email sensitivity for more than 10 people.

How exactly does the spam process work? What makes servers put emails into spam folders in the first place?

TM - Each email inspected by your spam filter is given a score, and different aspects of the email give it more points. The lower the points count the better chance of it going to your inbox. The higher the score, the better chance it goes in spam and your server can just discard it.

Images in your email raise your point value, (for instance, your signature). Mentioning anything inappropriate in the subject line also greatly increases your score. The number of recipients that an email is sent to also increases your score. The spam engines actually read the text in your email as well. You don’t want to have things like “discount,” “special offer,” “buy now,” “limited time,” and several other thousand variations on phrases like that. Each time the server sees those, it adds point values - some have more than others. For example, the word “Viagra,” has a very high point value. As you might expect, if your server sees that the message is pretty much doomed.

Each spam vendor has different systems of assigning points but basically the system administrator or anti-spam vendor sets a threshold. For example, our point threshold is 12 points. Anything above 12 points, the email will be arbitrarily deleted and you’ll never see it. Anything between six to 12 points goes in your spam folder and you can review it. The spam folder could be called the quarantine or junk mail folder as well.

With the spam issues, and with servers having the ability to just delete e-mail without it even getting to the spam folder, do you see email as even a reliable way of reaching contacts anymore?

TM - When people ask us about email being a reliable form of communication, we tell them, not for critical business matters. A general rule of thumb is to always follow-up with a phone call, and don’t consider that your email was read unless you get a read receipt or some sort of follow-up from them. Spam folders often will catch important communication.

Where do you see the future of email going? Will it be the way it is today, five years from now? 10 years from now?

TM - Email is not going away and will be the primarily form of communication in the business world. The reliability of email between organizations will continue to fluctuate since it’s such a lucrative business for people that send spam.

If people need to send large groups of email we suggest the use of an email vendor, someone like a Constant Contact. Many of the email servers know the legitimate vendors. There’s a greater chance of email going through this way and you don’t risk inadvertently blacklisting your organization. Blacklisting means your server being blocked from sending email. If someone has a spam program and they mark your email as spam and it happens a certain amount of times, your email may get blocked and go to a blacklist. When that happens, your email will not go through and you may receive a message that it was blocked. Then your IT staff or email hosting company must contact the organization that blacklisted your server and tell them that it is in fact a legitimate server. It could take up to a week to get it off the some of the blacklists, and this can really hurt your business.

Stefen Lovelace is an Associate Account Executive. You can contact him at stefen@maroonpr.com.

Friday, February 19, 2010

BBJ Reports Increase in Nonprofit Hiring

By Mitchell Schmale

The Baltimore Business Journal shared some encouraging economic news yesterday for nonprofits in Maryland with the results of a study showing the state’s non-profit work force grew by 2.7% in 2008. The good news is obviously tempered by the fact that the 2009 numbers on hiring and layoffs are not yet available to document the grim effects the economic recession has had on non-profits in Maryland, as well as the rest of the globe. The financial crisis was just hitting its grim stride at the beginning of 2009 as all companies began to make tough decisions to deal with the short and long-term effects.

The numbers were promising in that non-profits were able to grow around the state before the inevitable cutbacks in the work force that occurred in 2009 as for-profits and non-profits alike had to become lean and mean to compete and survive long-term in a struggling economy.

Our nonprofit clients at Maroon PR are optimistic about the future as they work to gain market share and financial support from corporate partners in a very crowded landscape of worthwhile causes and organizations. We look forward to helping them reach their goals and emerge at the other end of the economic crisis as stronger and more competitive organizations as they continue to achieve great results for their beneficiaries.

Mitchell Schmale is the Vice President of Maroon PR's Corporate Division. You can contact him at mitchell@maroonpr.com.