Top Five Mistakes Companies Make with Reputation & Risk Management

August 20th, 2010

I interviewed Dr. David Geddes, who is Vice President of Research and Development for Evolve24 (, a business analytics and research firm specializing in the measurement of corporate reputation and risk.  David is also a member of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission (, a thought leadership group.

Because Dr. Geddes has a strong background in both Market Research and Public Relations, I felt he would be the perfect person to describe the biggest mistakes he believes companies are making when it comes to managing risk.  Here is a summary of our discussion today:

  1. Organizational silos. Actions from all functional units – from marketing to customer service, operations, and human resources – have the power to enhance or detract from a company’s reputation. However, companies often focus on reputation during a crisis, and relegate reputation management to the PR department. Reputation and risk should be built in to a company’s shared DNA, not grafted on.
  2. Everybody “owns” reputation risk management.  Companies need to take a corporate-wide view of what their reputational strengths and weaknesses are and be prepared to act accordingly from within those areas, and not assume PR will handle it.  There needs to be a cohesive strategy, and risk management needs to be everyone’s responsibility.
  3. If you think the information doesn’t exist, you’re not looking hard enough.   Many companies today fail to understand disaggregated information, scattered across organizational silos.  There’s not a single source of data to tell you how you’re doing today, what may be looming on the horizon, or how well you performed last quarter.  News and Social Media have real-time impact on a company’s reputation, and that impact can snowball, especially if the news is bad.
  4. Companies often manage reputations looking back rather than by listening and anticipating.  Retrospective analyses and reports are fine, but you cannot manage in a Web 3.0 world by looking at the rearview mirror. Tools exist to show which way the proverbial winds are blowing, and this is especially true with product trends, issues, and risks.  By adopting an active listening program, companies can usually anticipate issues and trends that they can leverage to build reputation, or to identify trends which they should have seen coming.
  5. Reputation is not “one size fits all.” Corporate reputation encapsulates expectations by stakeholders about future behaviors of the corporation, and thus determines the relationships between the organization and its stakeholders. A company has as many reputations as it has stakeholder audiences. Sophisticated corporations routinely monitor, measure, and evaluate their reputation, risk, and the drivers of reputation and risk among all stakeholder audiences. How? They use smart listening tools built upon content analytics to target audience segments, identify opportunities and threats, develop action plans, and support the achievement of desired business outcomes.

For more of the whys and hows of corporation reputation and risk management, and the impact of Web 3.0 technologies on content analytics, come see David’s presentation at the Smart Content Conference Tuesday, October 19th.

Laurel Earhart

for Smart Content Conference

Are you a Vendor or a Solution Provider?

August 3rd, 2010

When I was at AOL, my sales mentor, Charlie Warner critiqued my sales presentation. He complimented me on my professionalism.  He said I used precise, technical terms and could perfectly articulate my company’s value proposition and how we stood against our competitors.

Then he got in my face and said words to me that have forever shaped my career:

“Your clients won’t know what the hell you’re talking about”.

Are we doing such a great job of explaining how the technology works that we forget how to find out if a client even cares?

What if a client doesn’t care about how the technology works at all?  What will that do to your presentation? In non-technical terms, can we explain how we will provide a solution to their problem? 

I once intervened when a member of my team corrected a client’s vocabulary as he described an in-house problem our technology could solve.  My teammate proceeded to explain what this problem was called and the name of the technical solution, and proceeded with her pitch.  I stopped the pitch.  “Tell us more,” I said, “about what’s not working.”  

If a client is opening up to you about a problem, take copious notes.  Learn their language instead of teaching them yours.

Charlie said “If you use terms your client doesn’t understand, it makes them feel stupid.  Do you really think they’ll open up to you and share their pain?  Using jargon is what gangs do, to separate themselves like an exclusive club.  Don’t do it.”

Lesson learned:  If you are selling your technology, you are a vendor. 

If you are learning, all over again, what problems a customer experiences and together you craft a solution that happens to use your technology, then you are a solution provider.

Laurel Earhart for Smart Content Conference


August 2nd, 2010

What is the ‘matchmaking’ component of the conference?

One of the core objectives a conference attendee has, beyond obtaining knowledge, is to receive a return on his or her investment.  As our conference is positioned to bring together vendors, customers, press, and investors, we recognize that each attendee will have different definitions of what will be the most valuable outcome.

Toward that end, we are creating a pre- and post- conference matchmaking component.  Essentially, through a ‘triage’ questionnaire, I’ll work with you to identify your needs and help you articulate them to those who can meet them.  My colleague, Seth Grimes, has a unique view of the chessboard to know which providers can meet those needs.

As content analytics technology is evolving so rapidly, there are going to be a number of solutions presented which solve a problem you may not even be aware that you’re having.  Your company may have a business process in place and have dealt with it for so long it has become routine.   

Likewise, for content analytics companies, you may have been pitching “Solution A” when in fact you really needed to get your prospect decisionmakers on the same page for diagnosis.  In other words, prospects need to dial it back a bit, bring BOTH their biz dev and technology groups to the table for collaborative ownership.

What can matchmaking do for you?

– It can help you find your next career.

– It can enable strategic alliances with other vendor solutions

– It can help diagnose problems with business processes

 – It can illuminate new revenue opportunities

Our first series of triage questionnaires will go out just after Labor Day.  In the meantime, we’ll be doing some informal questioning of processes to help determine the best way we can help.

I’d love to hear your ideas.

Laurel Earhart, for the Smart Content Conference.

A perfect storm

July 21st, 2010

If you don’t think changes are coming to your online business content model, think again.

In the $30mm acquisition category is Sysomos, now owned by MarketWire.  Traditional corporate communication has officially embraced Social Media.  Now companies who don’t understand how to leverage social media will benefit from the acquisition.

In the… ahem… greater than $30mm acquisition category is Google’s purchase of MetaWeb, which will add semantic search capabilities to Google’s capabilities.  What’s Semantic Search?   Think about it… you are usually looking for an answer to a question (as in:  I want to find all Ska bands currently on tour)  How in the heck do you query that?  Semantic Search, ergo… MetaWeb.

Yesterday, Amazon announced its electronic book sales have exceeded hardback books.  Imagine.  And besides Kindle, what are people reading their e-books on?  Yes.. your trusty iPad.   No wonder – 6 out of 10 adults are now using the internet wirelessly.

I laughed when I read that Kara Swisher dubbed the iPad as Christmas 2010’s “Tickle Me Elmo”; and no wonder… with FlipBoard’s ability to package your favorite blogs and traditional media together as your own personal media conglomerate.  I wonder which blogs and content providers have natural affinity?  How will advertisers be able to leverage these new content ensembles?   I love the smell of new revenue models.

Speaking of content ensembles, how about content merchandising?  I love the way Amazon suggests other things I might like to buy.  I can do that with books now, but I can’t ::wait:: to see what other content and blogs I may want to read.  The technology exists.  How can we monetize it?  Let me count the ways:  advertising, e-commerce,  subscription revenue, sales of aggregate marketing data and reader behavior tracking, ‘opt-in’ research, and affinity partnerships.

Near to my own heart… no data mining system or polling tool would be complete without a sentiment analysis component. 

New business models will revolve around how we find the information we need.  Monetizing the process as opposed to the product is going to be the biggest learning curve for media companies.   Thankfully, we have people like Seth Grimes who watch the entire text analytics market.  He puts people and companies together that are MFEO.  (Sorry- Sleepless in Seattle reference… Made For Each Other).

Content providers will need to optimize their product for the new technology.  Advertisers will still need to get consumers to take action, but the metrics they will need to track will expand exponentially.  Tracking tools will emerge, a la Google Analytics, but, once again, data is just data without people who understand what matters and why.

In the Web 3.0 world, the Consumer will be (and is always) King.   Content providers need to remember to follow the money.  Wherever consumers are spending their time and money is where they need to be.

Laurel Earhart, for the Smart Content Conference.

Three Lessons Learned from Early Online Content Providers

July 21st, 2010

 The biggest obstacle to online content providers in the pre-internet days was neither which business model to choose (Subscription?  Ad or Sponsor based?) nor which platform to publish in (AOL, Compuserve, or Prodigy?)

The greatest obstacle was that people didn’t know what to do online.

We forget that people killed a lot of trees.   Printouts of online content (and photocopies for colleagues) were de rigueur.  There were no bookmarks or forwarding of links.

Lesson learned:  People will initially treat new products the way they used the old ones.

We forget that people ran up enormous connectivity bills, sometimes exceeding their rent payments.  The greatest amount of time people spent online was not reading online content, it was interacting with others and playing games.

Lesson learned:   Follow the money.  If people are spending ten times the hours (and money) to do something other than interact with your product, you’d better find out what it is.

We forget that then people didn’t know what to click.  Buttons had to say “click here”.  Woe to those whose computers did not yet have a mouse.

Lesson learned:  Make the most lucrative real estate be irresistible and obvious.

To quote my  boss, Myer Berlow, from one of our 1999 staff meetings:

“ True interactive media is rare, and it’s never well-done.”

Successful content providers overcame the technology and business model hurdles by taking a chance and moving forward by trial and error until they got it right.  Forging ahead to Web 3.0 (or even 2.0 for that matter)  means taking a chance and imitating something that seems to be working even if you don’t 100% ‘get it’.   After all, being somewhat successful even though you don’t know why is a lot better for your business than hanging back until you’ve got it all figured out.

The internet waits for no one.

Laurel Earhart, for the Smart Content conference

Online Content Success Factors

July 17th, 2010

As a salesperson, you know you’ve really got something when word of mouth exceeds your direct marketing efforts.

Judging by the overwhelming response we’ve had to the Smart Content conference, it appears we have touched a nerve.

When Seth asked me to assist him in development and marketing of his conference, I jumped at the opportunity because I realized market education isn’t something any single company can do alone.  Our backgrounds are in the same industry, but my focus is in sales and marketing.   The more I thought about it, the more I realized how substantially business models have changed in response to technical developments.   If only businesses could have some idea of the changes about to occur in the content sector, the better they could be prepared to effectively monetize these upcoming developments.

For some perspective of the business model changes to content, let’s review the major milestones before we take a look at what’s coming.

Twenty years ago, online content met the modem and subscription based content models struggled with how to make use of online media.  The greatest fear was whether online subscriptions would cannibalize traditional subscriptions.  Note that I say online subscriptions:  people occasionally chose to pay to go online to read their favorite publications.

The next milestone pitted publisher vs. publisher as some brave content providers opted to offer their services via dial-up services like AOL and CompuServe and be paid for actual usage for being part of a larger content offering.  It was the “walled garden” approach, and the fear was that online usage would erode the print model which was supported by traditional advertising.  Online advertising hadn’t yet taken root.

I was one of the first on-line ad sales representatives.  By 1999, the ad agencies had yet to believe in the online media model.  I remember being laughed at by venerable agencies on Madison Avenue when I had to lead their account managers down the hall to the mail room.  I actually had to use the fax machine line to dial out and demonstrate my service because, believe it or not, there was no internet access anywhere in the building!

There were two major tipping points that validated the online advertising model, creating the incredible “about face” in online advertising.  The first was when business and sales people began to have conversations about things like demographics and impressions instead of pixels and baud rates.  Understanding the vocabulary of your prospect and changing the pitch and retrofitting the metrics of your business model is essential to selling and evangelizing a new technology to a traditional audience.  When I could liken my online property to the demographics and impressions of a popular television show or print magazine, sales began to flow.  The other, equally important tipping point was to articulate what the new model could do for them.  When I explained that the oft-quoted adage by John Wanamaker was no longer true:  “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted.  The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”  We could now measure clickthrough and see which advertisement was working.  No other medium had that capability.

The online content providers who were most successful at this point were those who had the following:

  1. A compelling demographic and story about the difference between the online users and the print consumer.
  2. An understanding of the best online “real estate” (i.e. locations for most impressions and clickthroughs)
  3. Something beyond the print model, i.e. message boards or forums to encourage online participation.  (We called it “stickiness”)
  4. A willingness to test and rotate an advertiser’s creative, to optimize clickthroughs.

If you have a “war story” to share about this era, I’d love to hear it.  We’ll be addressing the evolution of the content business models in future segments, including:

  • How “Search” based advertising scuttled the “Prime Real Estate” model
  • How “Social Media” has taken us back to relationship marketing – and whose content is it, anyway?
  • What technologies are coming in Web 3.0 and what they remind us of in other business models.

We won’t have time at the conference to address the history of technology and monetization in detail, which is why this blog exists, to give some context for the future.  Let us know what you think about the historical references we all need to have before we move into Web 3.0 technologies.

Laurel Earhart, for the Smart Content conference