Monday, July 29, 2013

In the Future, Your TV will be Watching You

When most people think of Google, they think of the search engine they use to get information for everything from a recipe for a family dinner or how to fix a leaky faucet, to background on the dinosaurs for a kid’s homework project.

But it’s been well-documented in the press that Google has set its sights on a much broader, more pervasive presence.  Not only does Google own other social media entities, such as YouTube, but it also has sponsored the development of new technologies, such as Google Glass®.  Google Glass® is said to have the ability pack the power of a smart phone in the frames of sunglasses or even prescription glasses.   The touted benefit is hands-free access to the information you get in a smart phone.

The fear some have of the new technology is the mini-camera that Google Glass® features.  They worry that the ubiquitous nature of such technology not only makes it possible for more and more people to capture still and moving images of each other just about anywhere, but that we won’t even be able to detect it as much when a camera is being used to photograph or take video of us.

To be sure, the omnipresence of security cameras today has created an atmosphere where no one can reasonably assume privacy when out in public or in certain office buildings or commercial facilities.

The one refuge we can still count on is our living room, right?  Maybe. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that Google could be working on a television set-top box with a motion sensor and a video camera that could have the ability to track our movements, record our voices and monitor our behaviors.

The business objective of such technology, we are told, is to help marketers better understand our tastes, wants, needs and behavior patterns to better meet our expectations.

The International Business Times described it this way, “…two people cuddling on a sofa watching TV might see a commercial for a romantic Disney cruise, while an arguing couple might see a pitch for couples’ therapy.”

This was how the publication described the application of a data collection technology that is at the center of a patent application field by Verizon Communications Inc.

I still don’t like it when Microsoft Word does “autocomplete” to finish words I start and makes bad assumptions on where I was going.  I can only imagine how I will feel when my TV doesn’t get my jokes, or doesn’t agree with the clothes I’m wearing and makes judgments.

Apparently, I’m not alone.

There is a bill before congress that will require that consumers consent to the collection of such private data based on “ambient action.”  The bill has been described as the “We Are Watching You Act of 2013.”

What this all reinforces is that the technology industries are evolving from a former stance of using the latest advances to making life easier for the user, to collecting data on the user for sale to a third party.  The paradigm shift is that technology is no longer about the user but is now about the “watcher.”

In other words, the real money in the future is on data collection, a form of commercialized voyeurism.  The more personal, the more valuable.  The more valuable, the more revenue.  It goes from there.

This raises a number of questions.  What is the role of technology?  What rights should telecommunications companies and other technology providers have to the most private information on users?  Can we trust them with the data?

I don’t know about you, but I have a pretty good idea on how I’d answer all of the above.  Where I sit on my couch is none of my TV's business.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pirate and Steeler Nations Have One Thing In Common

Something unusual happened this week when the Pittsburgh Pirates visited the nation’s capital to play the Washington Nationals.  There seemed to be a large number of Pirates’ fans in the crowd.  So much so, that when the TV cameras followed home run and foul balls into the stands, quite often the fan on the other end was wearing black and gold.

A signature example of this was Pedro Alvarez’s home run in the second game of the series.  He hit the ball just over the left field fence and the fan who caught it was wearing Pirate gear.

While it’s difficult to say what percentage of the ballpark had Pirates’ fans in the seats, what was extremely clear was that the Buc fans who were on hand were the most vocal.  Any time the Pirates got a hit, made a play or hit a home run, the roar of the Pirates’ fans was much louder than the corresponding reaction from Nationals’ fans when their team made a play.

Civic pride aside, there are a couple of obvious reasons for this and one not so obvious.  The Pirates are having a great year and are in the hunt for the playoffs.  Since Pittsburgh hasn’t seen anything like this involving baseball for the past 20 years, the positive reaction of the fans is to be expected.

But there’s something else. 

Steelers’ fans across the country and around the world have earned the name “Steeler Nation.”  This has come to stand for many former Pittsburghers who have moved elsewhere, yet still root passionately for their hometown team.  And then there are many who’ve never been to Pittsburgh who somehow identify with the Steelers and have made the football team their own.

Now, here come the Pirates in the familiar black and gold colors, representing the same town the Steelers represent.  They play a gritty, grind-it-out form of baseball that resonates with true baseball fans and anyone who just like a tough competitor.  They have good players, but their roster isn’t filled with stars in the way the Yankees have been built. 

The Pirates work together well as a team because they have to, because they are willing to, and because they can.

It’s summer time.  Football season is a little over a month away.  And so, Steeler nation is donning black and gold across the country for a baseball team representing Pittsburgh with the same competitiveness, drive and winning results that football fans have come to expect from the Steelers.

If the Pirates continue to win, they will see more and more Pittsburgh fans in the stands, making away games feel like home games.  That alone tends to give teams a little extra energy and confidence when on the road.  And that often leads to a few more wins.

In sports, it’s possible to see the effect consumer support can have on productivity and performance.  Good fan support helps teams on several levels when they take the field.  The Pirates are getting that now during this special season.

Steeler Nation for now is Pirate Nation, but really, it’s all just Pittsburgh Nation.  The Pirates are tapping a reservoir of national goodwill towards a town and its teams that it may have underestimated prior to 2013.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

PR's Measurement Mosaic

PR agencies, research firms and communications departments have struggled for many years to find the best way to measure PR campaigns and programs.

The oldest and most common way to measure PR is the old-fashioned clip book.  Basically, it’s just a compilation of news clips (and now links to online articles and broadcast reports) on our organizations in both traditional and new media.

Some agencies like to use “advertising equivalency” formulas to give these clip reports a more scientific, quantifiable feel.  The simple overview is to measure the space the article takes up in a newspaper, for instance, and then find out how much an ad in that space would cost and how many people would see it. That’s your advertising equivalency number.  Do this for every clip, and you’re likely to have some impressive numbers, whether they are all that reliable or not.

The problem PR faces in measurement is that in PR there are few areas where you can tie PR efforts directly to quantifiable results.  Yes, we can take credit for numbers of news clips.  We can take credit for numbers of people who show up at PR-organized events.  We can tie PR to numbers of followers on Twitter, and numbers of “likes” on Facebook.

But if we try to hang our reputation on that, sooner or later, senior management is going to ask whether all of those clips, followers and “likes” are converted into anything meaningful.

Ultimately, PR is a support function to a business or organization.  It’s the company’s sales function that generates sales results.  It’s the organization’s development department that generates funding.  Those functions use PR to create awareness to support their efforts, but PR cannot take direct credit for increased sales or in the case of nonprofit organizations increased donations.  The primary reason is that there are too many variables that contribute to those results that are beyond the control and responsibility of PR.

The best ways to gauge the effectiveness of PR are to use a number of measures, that when combined, provide a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t. 

Focus groups help identify issues that resonate with or turn off specific audiences.  Surveys help us detect patterns and changes in attitudes across targeted demographics.  Secondary research, which may include analysis of news coverage, helps us learn whether our messages are getting through, and how certain issues are being characterized in the public arena. 

We can do interviews with key constituents to find out what motivates them and how they receive and process information.  And we can gather all of the data the client can provide that might help us track how effectively PR may be supporting those efforts.  We can tally sales numbers and compare to last year at this time. We can look at numbers of customers, what they are buying, and where they live. 

All of this helps us create a measurement mosaic that gives us a clearer picture of how PR may be helping an organization achieve its objectives. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

America the Beautiful

I have a question: Which song is your favorite…the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, or America the Beautiful?  I’ve heard this question asked different times over the years in informal settings like right after the anthem is played at a sporting event or at an Independence Day picnic.  Usually what follows is a debate over which one should be our national anthem.  While the Star Spangled Banner clearly is unrivaled, it’s not that hard to find other camps.

Having spent my share of time standing for the national anthem as it has been played or sung at sporting events and other locations, I still find it has the power to strike a nerve with me, not so much for the melody or even the words themselves, but for everything that it stands.  I think of the sacrifice that has gone into giving our flag meaning, and our National Anthem is nothing less than the musical personification of that flag. 

But I have to say, the other two songs that I mentioned above resonate with me in so many ways. 

Today, however, I’m thinking mostly about America the Beautiful.  I heard it sung over the weekend and thought about how positive it rings.  The song is about all that is good about our country, and while some may think its vision a bit altruistic, I don’t. 

America the Beautiful was first written by Katharine Lee Bates as a poem entitled Pikes Peak.  It was first published on July 4, 1895 in a church publication called The Congregationalist, but when it was published, its title was changed to simply America.

The words were combined with a melody that had been written by Samuel Ward in 1882.  That melody was called Materna for the hymn O Mother dear, Jerusalem.

Words and song were joined in 1910 and given the title America the Beautiful.  It has now been 103 years since the song entered the country’s consciousness. 

It recognizes our country’s natural beauty, its history, its foundation in a democracy based on freedoms given to us by the Creator.  The song pays homage to those who gave the ultimate sacrifices for our freedoms. 

In 2013, I think the words of the song are as relevant as ever.  Songs are important in the way groups come together, in how perceptions are influenced, how we are able to strike a chord with our audiences.  Yet they often tend to be much larger than simple PR tactics or strategies.  And this one is no exception.

So with that, may I wish you a Happy Independence Day!

America the Beautiful

Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man's avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!