Monday, September 18, 2006

CEO bloggers communicate to the masses

Sun Microsystems Inc. CEO Jonathan Schwartz recently became "un blogeur" when he started publishing his Weblog in French and nine other languages.

Schwartz, whose online journal attracts 50,000 viewers each month, says going international will generate new customers attract prospective employees in Europe, China and elsewhere. That puts the 40-year-old chief executive at the vanguard of a trend in corporate communications, one that tears down barriers between executives and consumers.

"The blog has become for me the single most effective vehicle to communicate to all of our constituencies -- developers, media, analysts and shareholders," Schwartz said in an interview in his Silicon Valley office. "When I go out and have dinner with a key analyst on Wall Street or a key investor from Europe and ask them if they've read my blog, they almost universally say yes."

CEOs of smaller companies have already seized on blogs, and big companies are increasingly joining in -- despite the potential for disastrous backfires. In its unfiltered form, blogging lets them bypass the public relations department, journalists and industry analysts and speak directly to the public.

Executive coach John Agno said blogs can also cure the dreaded "CEO disease" -- the isolation that envelops a leader when subordinates become reluctant to disclose bad news or worst-case scenarios that might trigger a shoot-the-messenger response.

"Blogs are personal -- they humanize the Web and keep CEOs in touch with what's going on out there in America," said Agno, head of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based consulting company Signature Inc. "People feel they can really have a conversation with someone who has a blog."

Yet Schwartz is one of only a handful of Fortune 500 CEOs who blog -- and his entries are often risque. In his zeal to tout Sun, Schwartz has crossed paths with the company's legal department, whose attorneys have asked him to include "safe harbor" statements on blog entries that discuss future business strategies and products.

Thirty Fortune 500 companies are now publishing corporate blogs, nearly double the number in December 2005, according to the Fortune 500 Blogging Wiki, a collaborative tracking site. Technology companies like Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Oracle Corp. were early adopters, but senior executives at industrial giants like Boeing Co. and General Motors Corp. have also embrace the trend.

The amount of time executives spend blogging depends on the length and frequency of entries, though few seem to update more than once a week. Some executives -- including Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey -- don't include much original content and simply rely on excerpts from public speeches and press releases.
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz's "Fast Lane" blog includes entries from other GM executives and links to his favorite German and French auto enthusiast sites. Lutz's site has generated 10,000 reader responses since January 2005 and, along with a smaller GM corporate blog, gets 4,000 to 6,000 unique daily visitors.
The blog allows the Swiss-born executive to write directly to hard-core motorheads around the world. More than 900 readers asked Lutz, who oversees product development at world's largest automaker, to revive the Chevrolet Camaro. GM said last month it would develop a new Camaro based on a concept car unveiled in January.

"I'm not going to tell you that Camaro is happening because the blogosphere demanded it; that would be disingenuous," Lutz wrote. "But I will tell you that the enthusiasm shown for Camaro in this forum is a shining and prominent example of the passion that exists for this automobile."

More than 3,000 of Sun's 30,000 employees maintain blogs on the corporate network. Schwartz says one reason he encourages executives to blog is that it helps Sun attract new employees with specialized interests. Schwartz says the most esoteric blog entries -- those discussing chip multithreading; open-source projects in Brazil; or Java, the programming language Sun developed in the early 1990s -- attract passionate responses.
"If you really care about Java in the medical device community, the fact that there's a Sun blog where someone focuses on that suggests there's someone at Sun you can relate to," Schwartz said. "There may be three people at Sun who care deeply about this stuff, and you can go hang out with them if you come work for us."

Karen Christensen, CEO of Great Barrington, Mass.-based Berkshire Publishing Group, usually updates her blog weekly but last week spent a half-hour a day, five days a week, blogging during a visit to China. The blog gives colleagues a sense of her long hours and concern for the details of all her publications. That window into her world makes book reviewers -- her harshest critics -- consider her work in new light, she says.
"I had a reviewer write to me and say, 'I never knew there were real people behind this,"' Christensen said.
The publishing industry is rife with bloggers, including Macmillan Publishers Ltd. CEO Richard Charkin, whose "Chark Blog" includes slice-of-life entries from the British executive.

Consultants say blogging suits natural-born writers -- but it's tough for other executives.
"Ultimately, a good blog is good writing. Most CEOs are not good writers," said Debbie Weil, a Washington-based consultant and author of "The Corporate Blogging Book."

"The packaging and controlling of the corporate message has always been done for them, so often they don't realize that writing well is hard work and takes time and thought and practice," said Weil.
Blogs can also become a publicity land mine.
The worst blogs tend to be the newest -- before executives gain the confidence and speed to write for the medium, said Weil. She encourages "soft launches" where an executive practices blogging with entries that don't get published, and urges companies not to publicize the blog for several months after its debut.
Nondisclosure agreements and financial regulations can turn the most literary CEOs into scribes who post rehashed speeches or press releases. CEOs may also lack the thick skin required for blogging, said David Taylor, an executive consultant in Boulder, Colorado.

"One of the inevitabilities of blogging is that you get critical, hostile responses from trolls -- people who post provocative things just to inflame a reaction," Taylor said. "If you're the CEO of a 5,000-employee company, you don't need to be dealing with a troll."

CEO bloggers can also take heat when companies stumble.
Sun's annual revenue has declined in four of the past five years, and shares have plummeted from a high of about $64 in September of 2000 to around $5 this year.
"As much as I'm impressed by Jonathan's blog, I wonder how he has time to blog when he has a company that desperately needs management steered in the right direction," Taylor said.
Schwartz shrugs off criticism, insisting that blogging makes sense at Sun, which develops computer and storage systems, high-speed microprocessors and software for operating network equipment for corporate clients.
"Mainstream communication is horrible at serving niches," Schwartz said. "This is a good way to take the expertise around Sun, which can be pretty esoteric, and ensure it's available to the marketplace holistically."

Associated Press Report

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The New Hottest Job Title: VP Of Search

What do the New York Times/, Citicards and Passages drug treatment center have in common? You guessed it, a Vice President of Search, the hottest new title in town. Curious to learn how this role came to be, Danny Sullivan moderated as three pioneers discussed how they broke through the glass ceiling.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 6-10, 2006, San Jose, California.Just a few years ago, the only person with in house search engine marketing knowledge was either a techie or an underling in the interactive marketing department. Needless to say, neither commanded the attention of the CMO, CTO or CEO. As the quantifiable results from SEM gained attention, these early players became the "go-to" people for all matters search. Once the CMO took notice (and perhaps credit), search earned a firmly anchored line item in the annual marketing budget. Enter the VP of search.So who exactly fills these shoes?For Sean Smith of Citicards, the first stop was as an art director and information architect. After a particular online project didn't go as planned, the online acquisition channel was formed to improve matters.

The VP title, however, came much later in a firm that still distrusts the web. Smith commented that "90% of the job is still convincing the company that my job is worth having. To do this, you need to educate."Smith spends a good deal of time learning how to best leverage search over the long run. For Citi, understanding how search contributes to the lifetime value of a customer is as important as today's average CPC.The results have paid off. "Internet acquisitions surpassed direct mail at Citi last year," said Smith. "Do you open that mail? The push is not effective."For others, it is a jump to the other side that lands them in the top slot. This is particularly true for agency employees, such as Abilash Patel, who flirt with the idea of "working on the client side." His move earned him the title of VP Search Marketing for Passages Malibu, a high-end drug treatment center.If agency life is about being in constant motion, the client side is often about accepting the slow progress in molasses-like organizations. Patel has earned respect by asserting that search is an independent sales channel, and furnishes numbers to prove it. He recommends that VPs of Search "pronounce and define your impact on the firm, thereby taking accountability." He is responsible for paid search, paid inclusion, click fraud research, organic search, reputation management, link building, affiliate marketing, business development and distribution and viral marketing.

Patel feels strongly that link popularity and content generation must be executed in house, yet accedes that outsourcing other efforts can be more efficient.Passages now earns 95% of its business from search and revenues have increased 354%. The firm has also uncovered significant click fraud, learned to better manage vendors and conducted a redesign. While HR might be flexible enough to create new titles such as VP of SEM, the remainder of the organization might not be so fast to accept change, as Marshall Simmonds experienced. "As VP of SEM, I walked back to tech and asked for a CD Rom drive. IT asked if I was a Chief. So I found out that you get more toys as a Chief than as a VP." Simmonds must have been doing something right; he soon became Chief Search Strategist at the New York Times/ bureaucracy within the Grey Lady's IT department was just a beginning. Simmonds faced 11 million documents, a registration wall, a paid subscription wall and editorial guidelines. And these were just a few of the obstacles.

The audience quickly learned that Simmonds is not only a search expert, but something of a change management guru. His ability to overcome ego and cut through old school turf wars has become one of the greatest case studies in search engine marketing. To facilitate communication, Simmonds actively seeks out projects that require involvement across multiple units. The formula integrates search into the workflow via a series of small changes that deliver big results. He has also provided significant support, including a dedicated email address, a search center, an SEO discussion board, training, reports, chats and newsletters. For those on the execution side, there are checklists that remind employees to consider titles, annotations on all links and keyword rich anchor text. "Everyone owns search," he declared.The newsroom, however, is an uphill battle. A prime example is the evolution of headlines, which itself earned a dedicated New York Times article 'This Boring Headline is Written for Google.' For Simmonds, this means explaining consumer speak and search patterns on a daily basis. "It isn't 'A Marriage Made in Heaven', but a 'Treo 700," he said. The newsroom doesn't always take such advice kindly. "They will be damned if you will teach them how to write. They see the writing on the wall and they see where it is going," he concluded.And they most certainly should. The New York Times and have experienced a significant increase in visitors from search. The former earns about 22% and the latter an impressive 80%.After the presentations, the audience aimed to determine how much of search should be outsourced.

For Smith, the answer was clear. "I have never found a vendor that knows my business like I do. I have done it and they have fallen apart. I am very distrustful all the time." He did admit that in some cases, "we have to go external, for speed, such as analytics or tracking." Patel also prefers to bring outsourced activities inside, noting that he has also been burned in the past as the firm hemorrhaged at over $25 a click.Simmonds' internal execution was a function of necessity. "At, I didn't have a budget for 6 years, so we did it all internally. At the Times, we have a little bit of budget, so we used it in areas that I don't want to do." These include link building or designing a toolset.The entire panel agreed that large teams are not necessary. For the Times and Citi, this means just two people who educate. Smith has one person on paid search and one on natural search. "I have dispensed with the idea of team because it creates a barrier. I create a zombie army. It is a matter of educating the product managers and marketing managers." Simmonds has a similar strategy by creating SEO project managers. "We leave these everywhere."

Advertising Placements by Industry and Top Sponsored Links, August 2006

Interesting data on the industry breakdown of the ad placements and unit types and the top 25 companies placing sponsored links. It can be accessed at the below link.

Cross-Media Study: Web a Dominant Buyer Influence

DoubleClick's annual Touchpoints Survey reveals that the web is the most consistent factor in purchase influence across 10 product categories, according to MediaBuyerPlanner.

The survey examined the 10 categories, looking at how consumers first learn about products, how they further learn about them, and which factor most influenced their purchase decision. The highly readable study looks at how different media affect potential buyers at the different stages in the buying process.
The categories were automotive, consumer electronics, credit cards and banking, home improvement products, investments and mortgages, movies, personal/home care, prescription drugs, telecom services, and travel.

While word of mouth was the most consistently mentioned factor, websites were cited as more important than TV ads in seven of the categories (all but prescription drugs, personal/home care, and movies). Web marketing programs such as webadvertising, search engines, email programs and websites outranked the importance of salespeople, word of mouth, in-store promotions and TV advertising in select product categories (notably travel, banking and automotive).

This was most evident in the travel category. Among those who had bought a travel service in the past six months, 67 percent cited one or another internet vehicle as how they first became aware of the fare or promotion.

Television was found to have the highest impact on consumers in the movie category, while print had the highest impact for personal/home care. Some 75 percent of respondents cited their doctor as the greatest influence in their purchase decision in prescription drugs as published on Marketing Vox.

Anti-Spyware Tools Gobble up Advertisers' Cookies

A new study details the effect of 11 spyware-tracking programs on advertisers' cookies, and finds that Google's cookies evaded all challengers.

The soon-to-be-released study from independent researcher Ben Edelman details the ability of 11 spyware-tracking programs to detect cookies from 50 different ad systems, ClickZ writes . Six of the programs targeted Yahoo's pay-per-click ad conversion tracking cookies, for example. In general, the wider the reach of the ad network, affiliate network or ad management system, the more likely the tracking cookie would be detected.

The more widely recognized programs, such as Symantec's Norton Internet Security, McAfee Internet Security Suite and Microsoft Windows Defender, detected none of the 50 ad systems included in the study. Of the 11 programs, ZoneAlarm was the only one that automatically deleted any detected cookies.

"If privacy concerns continue to escalate, and users respond by choosing [lesser-used] applications over the larger anti-virus players, the affiliate networks will need to figure out a way to get 'un-targeted' by the smaller, niche anti-spyware and adware firms," Jeff Molander, CEO of affiliate marketing consulting firm Molander and Associates, is quoted as saying for Marketing Vox.