HigherEdBlogCon: April 3-7

HigherEdBlogCon 2006, a weeklong online conference, got under way today with two virtual presentations about podcasting in the classroom:

This virtual conference is geared mainly toward the academics interesting in Web 2.0 apps in the classroom. But a couple of sessions look promising for higher ed PR/marketing folks. The Tuesday, April 4, case study on how integrating blogs and Blackboard can improve a PR course (not yet posted), might be worth tuning in for.


Four out of five marketing execs agree…

…that TV advertising just ain’t what is used to be.

In fact, it ain’t even what it used to be two years ago.

From the Associated Press (via CBS):

Nearly four in five marketers surveyed believe that television advertising is less effective than it was just two years ago, according to a study released Wednesday.

That’s bad news for a nervous TV industry, which is worried about what the growth in digital video recorder usage and video on demand will mean for the economic underpinnings of the business.

TV executives are still pushing their medium as the most effective way to reach eyeballs. “[B]ut national advertisers aren’t buying it and are seeking alternatives to enhance their budgets and move them beyond the customary 30-second spot,” said Josh Bernoff, vice president of Forrester research, which conducted the survey.

Almost 70 percent of advertisers say they believe that DVRs and video on demand will reduce or destroy the effectiveness of traditional 30-second commercials, the survey found. …

Close to 60 percent of the advertisers say they will spend less on conventional TV advertising when DVRs spread to 30 million homes, the survey said. Forrester estimates DVRs are now in about 10 million homes and will be in 30 million within three years.

Advertisers are looking at other approaches, such as product placement, program sponsorship, interactive ads within programs and online video ads.

Battleground U

A recent USA Today article discusses the changing nature of the nation’s major universities as they continue to morph into businesslike entities. The article, “Are campuses becoming battlegrounds?” by Jim Hopkins, says the new academic environment pits “traditionally powerful professors against a new generation of business-savvy presidents hired to control costs, boost research and make classes more relevant in a global economy.”

Last month’s resignation of Harvard President Larry Summers after a faculty mutiny is adding fuel to the simmering tensions, and could slow long-sought reforms in higher education across the USA.”

Pressure on presidents is rising: Tuition, room and board jumped 67% in the past decade. Competition for donations and federal funding is brutal. Trustees want schools to help economies grow.

“It’s the toughest job I’ve ever seen,” says James Hardymon, head of the University of Kentucky’s board of trustees and former CEO of conglomerate Textron.

The article cites Kentucky as a case study of these changes. There, President Lee Todd “was given a mandate to boost the school’s standing,” USA Today notes. “Goals in the next 14 years include adding 625 faculty and more than doubling research spending, to $768 million a year. Lawmakers and trustees expect Todd to use his business experience to reach these goals.”

Todd knows university life demands a different approach. In business, he says, communication was “vitally” important, but could be focused on three constituents: investors, customers and employees. In academia, he juggles donors, faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, athletics fans, community leaders and lawmakers.

As one academic quoted in the story noted, the balance of power has shifted from a faculty-centric entity to a business enterprise.

Blogging and PR

PR blogger Robert French points out that the Florida PR association is hosting a blog week next month to promote the value of blogging to PR practitioners. Brilliant idea — and one that French himself has been involved in on a more global scale through Global PR Blog Week.

Alas, such events are rare indeed. So are PR organizations that use blogs as a means of connecting their members. As French points out, the FPRA is one of the few statewide public relations organizations with a blog. My own professional organization, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), is still groping with this whole blogging thing, and precious few folks in academic PR or marketing are communicating through the blogosphere.

I’d love to see more PR practitioners blogging. What’s holding us back?

A journalist’s ‘white-knuckle ride’ into the blogosphere

As more newspapers shift into the world of blogging, the journalists and editors trained to do journalism the old way are having to unlearn what they know and take a new approach to gathering and sharing the news. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine points to one such old-school journalist having to learn new tricks: Georgina Henry, editor of the UK Guardian‘s new blog, Comment Is Free. (Jarvis is also one of several regular contributors to the blog.)

Henry says her first week on the blog beat was “like riding a bucking bronco when you’ve never been on a horse before.” After so many years of doing news the traditional way, it’s tough to throw our brains in reverse. (I feel her pain. I’m doing traditional PR half the time and blog PR as well, and those PR/journalism lines continue to blur, too.)

Henry elaborates:

Many of the conventions ingrained by 16 years as an editor on the print version of the Guardian have been turned on their head. Instead of rejecting all but a tiny number of pieces from those offered every day from writers outside and inside the building – the excuse frequently being lack of space – we’ve invited several hundred people to blog as and when they want on any subject they choose and at any length. Instead of tight copy-editing – back and forth to writers, asking them to elaborate arguments, change introductions, and cut copy to fit – we’re checking mainly just for libel. Some would say that not being forced to make choices and unlimited space sounds like easier editing. So why has it felt like such a white-knuckle ride?

It’s due in part to “[t]he randomness, that sense of never quite knowing who’s going to post when and what,” she writes. That randomness “is both the joy of the new site and slightly scary. It’s the lack of control you feel you have at times – and control, I realise, is the one of the hardest things for editors to cede.”

Is it control that she is ceding, or is it the illusion of control? I believe it is the latter, but whichever it is, Ms. Henry, I hope you enjoy the ride.

Wal-Mart: working the blogs

Retail giant Wal-Mart, home of the “everyday low prices,” is enlisting the help of bloggers to shore up its public image. Somehow, I don’t think this approach is going to help much. But it also points to the growing influence of bloggers as new avenues for entities to bypass the mainstream media. The problem for Wal-Mart, though, is that it is taking the wrong approach. Instead of working with bloggers to promote a product or service, Wal-Mart is worried only about putting a positive spin on its image, and that approach is certain to backfire in the blogosphere. As the New York Times reports:

What is different about Wal-Mart’s approach to blogging is that rather than promoting a product — something it does quite well, given its $300 billion in annual sales — it is trying to improve its battered image. Wal-Mart, long criticized for low wages and its health benefits, began working with bloggers in late 2005 “as part of our overall effort to tell our story,” said Mona Williams, a company spokeswoman. “As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation,” she said.

Yeesh. It’s quotes like those that give us spokespeople a bad name. I don’t see a problem with PR folks working with bloggers. But I do have a problem with this approach:

In the messages, Wal-Mart promotes positive news about itself, like the high number of job applications it received at a new store in Illinois, and criticizes opponents, noting for example that a rival, Target, raised “zero” money for the Salvation Army in 2005, because it banned red-kettle collectors from stores.

Here’s one example of an exchange between the Wal-Mart PR guy, Marshall Manson, and Rob Port. (Via Wake-Up Wal-Mart Blog).

We can’t lay all the blame on Wal-Mart, or on Manson, because some of the bloggers who were regurgitating the retailer’s info didn’t cite their sources, thereby violating one of the unwritten codes of bloggery: the hat-tip, or giving credit where credit is due. (BTW, thanks to Lance for pointing me to the NYTimes article.)

As infOpinions? points out, “These are enthusiastic bloggers. They want to be evangelists for Wal-Mart.” What’s most “unfortunate,” from infOpinions’ perspective, is that Manson didn’t encourage bloggers “to reveal that they communicate with Wal-Mart or to attribute information to either the retailer” or its reps.

A couple of days ago, I posted my thoughts/review of the new book on blogging, Naked Conversations. I pointed out that the authors, Scoble and Israel, “give marketing and PR folks a rough way to go” but added that “I can’t fault them for that. For the most part, this criticism is deserved. Many marketing and PR pros are behind the curve when it comes to blogging.” Some of us are worse than behind the curve, it seems.