The New On-Demand Lifestyle

By Jim Parham, Chief Operating Officer

The third season of “House of Cards,” premiered last week. Well, premiere may not be the right term – the whole season downloaded in one fell swoop.

I’m a fan of  “binge watching” – you know, get a few friends together and watch Frank Underwood give a few asides, then you want to see more. No longer do you have to wait a week to see the next episode. No longer do you have to deal with 30-second messages about E.D.-fighting drugs or insurance. Today, it’s about content delivered where, when and how you want it and as much as you want it.

Go ahead, watch all 13 Netflix episodes in a two-day binge. You will undergo the same endless sensory overload experienced by Johnny Depp in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

While TV still has a big audience, The New York Times noted that, “Prime-time ratings for the Big Four broadcasters are dropping more precipitously than ever.”  Part of the problem might be demographics: Business Insider recently reported on a “generational shift in which younger viewers don’t want cable or satellite service, just wireless Internet that allows them to view video on their tablets and laptops.”

Just as we’ve seen the tanking of newspaper readership and subscription rates, there’s more on the horizon. Most likely, there will continue to be an assault on traditional television viewership as we move to a converged communication platform where the tablet, cellphone and laptop are all things to all people. Sure, we’ll sit in front of the 50-inch for an HD version of the Super Bowl, but that’s more of a social function than functionality.

Let’s not forget about where a lot of good “television” is coming from: HBO, Showtime and Netflix.  Looking at the list of Emmy nominations each year, it’s hard to tell that network television exists.  “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Veep” and “Game of Thrones” are landing huge market shares, even though they are accessible through subscription-based services.

It appears to me, more and more people want high quality entertainment that’s smart, entertaining and uninterrupted. Sure, many watch “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol,” but things are changing fast. Reality TV may have been a big hit for the broadcast industry, but there are only so many New Jersey housewives out there.  Thank God.

As traditional broadcasters feel the hot breath of competition, fueled by technology, they may want to turn to the inspirational wisdom of Frank Underwood: “There is but one rule:  Hunt or be hunted.”

Blog Your Way to Effective PR

By Jim Parham, Chief Operating Officer

Long gone are the mimeograph machine and soon-to-be shelved fax machine. (Did you know that fax is short for facsimile?) Email is now the gold standard, and the U.S. Postal Service has become more of a direct marketing company than a carrier of love letters. Twitter handles a large amount of the amorous outreach, and it takes only 140 characters … thankfully.

Now comes the rise in blogs, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. And most companies have a website, correct?  If the institution doesn’t have a Web presence, then something is usually very wrong at the firm. After all, we’re now getting a majority of our information from the Internet. Remember the Yellow Pages? Well, maybe you use the online version, but where are those bulky big yellow books?

How do blogs leave a footprint in our public relations turf? Good question. Here are two interesting facts from the blogging site PR Connection: Nearly 40 percent of U.S. companies use blogs for marketing purposes, and there are 152,000,000 blogs on the Internet.  Well, that was yesterday’s number. I’m sure it’s 155,000,000 by now.

Blog Friendly PR, which maintains a high-visibility website, says blogs are a new and fresh way to market product and services in an affordable and effective way.  Blog Friendly PR, after all, was created to bridge the gap between brands and bloggers. So, in others words, blogs are a cheap and direct way to reach your customers. Let’s not forget, too, that thousands of journalists scan blogs looking for scoops, trends, rumors and innuendo.

I attended a public relations seminar where the speaker stated, “Either be part of the conversation or let the conversation be one-sided, and that might not be a good thing for your business.”  He was referring to digging into social media and countering the unabashed, unfiltered content on the Web. Blogs are an ideal way to start a conversation, comment on other happenings, or respond to negative comments and erroneous online postings about you or your company.

Speaking of unfiltered, a great advantage to social media and blogging in particular is providing content to highly engaged stakeholders (and possibly tangential ones) without the media filter. You can go “direct” to your customers, influencers and decision-makers without having a mainstream media editor determine if it’s worthy of reprinting or re-broadcasting. Now that’s convenient.

A major disadvantage of blogs, however, is their ineffectiveness if no one reads them. That’s where savvy marketing comes in. You must be visible among the throngs of postings and rise above the daily buzz and clamor. To do this, it’s best to turn to a social media marketing guru. Now, almost every public relations agency has a social media expert who knows how to navigate much of the uncharted waters of the blogosphere.

So, put down the traditional, hard-copy collateral material (that few people read anyway) and start blogging your way to improved company awareness and success. Online is where most of the customers spend a majority of their time. Don’t believe me? Just ask Amazon.

— Jim Parham, Vice President, Chief Operating Officer 

Change is the Only Constant

“Change is the only constant.”

You said it, Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus. Especially in this industry. Creative concepts and new business opportunities constantly shift with the wind, but we’d be remiss to assume outer currents of change aren’t reflected within agency shops as well.

A decade or two ago, it would be commonplace for an employee to stay with one company for 10-15 years. Today, the average worker stays 4.4 years. But even that is old news to advertising and PR companies, where 4.4 years at one firm is considered a lifetime by today’s standards. That’s what happens when Millennials flood the job market.

This dictum is reflected in strategic and creative projects as well. A social media campaign takes approximately 90 days to build momentum, typically lasting three months before the message has peaked and the audience needs something new. Is it because constant multitasking has become an audience norm? Or is it just the nature of our work?

The truth is, we live in a world of momentary exposure: 30-second spots, 140 characters. Fireworks alight for a moment in a sky full of stars.

What separates good firms from great firms is the ability to capture that moment, with the talent you have and the client at your door, and make something spectacular.

We cannot lament lost ventures and missed opportunities or hang our heads when change inevitably comes to collect. What we can do is take the passive concept and make it active. Seize the moment. Pursue the fleeting idea. Realize that change creates opportunity and challenges monotony.

Embracing change, ironically, supplies a consistent long-term strategy to keep an agency afloat.

Change is the only constant?

For a great firm, change is the only necessity.

Everything’s Bigger in Texas. Including Ideas.

By Elizabeth Friedland, Senior Digital Account Strategist 

I’ve nearly recovered from my fifth trip to the People’s Republic of Austin (Texas) for the annual geek spring break known as South by Southwest. While some parts of SXSW are predictable (BBQ, breakfast tacos, Lone Star, heavy-handed “brand activation experiences”), the themes of the year are almost always a surprise.

What did SXSW 2014 impress upon me?

Privacy is the new Big Data.
First, let’s acknowledge the elephant at the conference: Privacy is perhaps the only thing that could kill modern marketing as we know it, and yet privacy was the new darling at SXSW 2014.

In years past, Big Data was the topic of the conversation: How we can gather it, what we can do with it and who can make best use of it. The urban legend-ish tale (that is actually true) about how Target found out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did was passed around sessions like the Creation story, an only slightly creepy inspirational motivator for what brands can do with the information we so willingly share.

This year, however, we all seemed to conveniently forget that a lack of privacy makes us successful marketers. We rallied behind such controversial figures as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange (who both appeared at jam-packed keynotes via Skype — some of the very technology they blasted) and decried the NSA amid calls for a return to anonymity. It was… weird.

The takeaway from these mixed messages? The reality is brands can’t abandon Big Data, but they can and should proactively address their consumers’ privacy concerns. They can start by fully disclosing exactly what is being collected, how it’s being used, and what consumers can do to remove themselves from the data pool.

“Wearables” are the new social media.
My first SXSW, in 2010, was all about social media. Twitter was new. Brands were just starting to dip their toes into Facebook. Instagram hadn’t yet been conceived and Foursquare was barely in its infancy. We were still getting a grasp on this new form of connectivity in a personal sense and barely beginning to ascertain the power of these mediums for brands. Now, of course, social media are about as fresh as the lettuce in my fridge, and even the most green of marketers has a solid understanding of social media fundamentals.

This year’s puzzle for us to figure out was wearables (i.e. technology that becomes part of the body). From the already adopted Fitbit and Nike+FuelBand to the ultra-nerdy Google Glass (“glassholes,” as the SXSW community took to calling them) to the still yet to be revealed Apple watch, wearables are either the next big thing or the next overhyped trend, depending on which panel you attended.

Tech belongs to the marketers.
My early experiences in Austin made me feel like an outsider. Panels mostly covered technical topics, and rooms were filled with computer engineers and programmers. You had to look hard to find a session about marketing or public relations, and it was easy to spot us non-technical folks in the crowd, looking bewildered as a panelist droned on about HTML5.

Now the reverse seems true. You can still find the techy workshops (and Drupal is still far too often a topic of conversation) but SX belongs to the marketers now — and so does the technology. The chatter is no longer about how the technology works, but what we can do to maximize it.

In fact, you could even argue there was a bit of an anti-technical movement this year, with several sessions discouraging the recent “everyone should learn to code” movement. While the programmers and engineers will always be extremely valuable, the real talent lies in understanding how to seamlessly integrate these technologies into a branding and marketing strategy.

Of course, that’s just what the crowd sentiment says this year. As for what SXSW 2015 will bring – well, that’s anybody’s guess.

Teens and Marketers Rejoice: Facebook’s Change of Heart

By Elizabeth Friedland, Senior Digital Account Strategist  

Facebook’s decision last week to allow minors to post publicly is doing more than making parents cringe, it’s making marketers rejoice — and entrepreneurial teens’ eyes widen with possibility.

The reasoning behind Facebook’s change of heart is obvious; the site has been losing the Internet popularity contest with teens as they flock to more open and arguably richer social networks such as Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. What was once the exclusive playground of young adults is now being overrun with photos of babies and crock pot successes. Facebook seemed to have no choice but to throw open the doors to teens.

On Life After Google Reader

By Deana Haworth, Vice President, Director of Account Services

Last week, a dismal notification popped up as Google Reader users logged into their accounts to access their RSS feeds: “Google Reader will not be available after July 1, 2013.”

Google Reader, launched in 2005, allows users to “subscribe” to new content added to any website they choose (e.g., http://hirons.wpengine.com/blog). When they log into their account, they can scroll through all the updated content in their RSS feeds, eliminating the necessity to visit each website individually just to see if new content has been added in the first place. Think of a Facebook timeline or a Twitter feed, except all the posts are new content published by the sites of your choosing.