Category Archives: Blogging

S&K Menswear Against the Ropes

 

 

Joe, we hardly knew ya.

Joe, we hardly knew ya.

Just two months after S&K Menswear filed for bankruptcy, and a month and a half after it announced it would close an additional 30 stores, CEO Joe Oliver was fired today in a surprise move.  I’m sure Joe was surprised, since he issued a press release just ten days ago announcing that the company had paid off its secured debt of $24 million, had sold its headquarters building to help pay off that debt and that customers seemed to like the new casual lines of clothing it was now offering.  But I guess all of that wasn’t enough.

 

 

Joe is a nice guy and I’m sure he will go on to bigger and better things.  In the spirit of my prediction that Circuit City would crash and burn, similarly I think S&K Menswear is done and here’s why.   Today, I went shopping for pants!

I know what you’re thinking:  It’s easy to predict a company will go under AFTER they declare bankruptcy.  Maybe so, but this time my prediction is based on dogged footwork and solid deduction.  Or is it solid footwork and dogged deduction?  Anyway, here’s what happened.

I wanted to buy a couple pairs of pants for work and always looking for a deal, I hit three stores on Richmond’s West End that I thought might have the right stuff.  First up, Mens Wearhouse. A salesman greeted me immediately and after looking at a few pairs of pants, I decided to keep looking because I thought $99 each might be high.  Next, I went to the S&K Menswear down the street.

At S&K Menswear there is a big sign in the window advertising 50% off everything in the store.  I thought two things:  one, I should be able to get a great deal here, and two, since this store is just a few feet away from the company’s corporate headquarters and basically serves as its showroom, it should have a great selection.  But I was wrong.

When I walked in I was greeted by a very friendly young man who offered assistance, so far so good.  But once I started to look around, I was struck by how barren the store looked, especially when compared to the Mens Wearhouse I had just visited and in hindsight, to the Joseph A. Bank store I would visit next and where I would ultimately buy my pants.  There was a lot of open floorspace, but not much in the way of selection for the items I was looking for.

I had made my way around the store and was heading back toward the entrance when I saw a rack of good-looking khaki pants that caught my eye.  Now I was getting somewhere!  But upon closer inspection, I noticed every pair of khaki’s were size 32 waist (something to work towards).  A salesman nearby must have noticed my surprise and said, “I know, all the khaki’s are size 32.”  

And that was it, I walked out, probably never to return again.

My prediction is that S&K Menswear is done.  After 40 years in business, it will be very sad to see them go.

 

UPDATE: The day after Joe Oliver was shown the door, former chairman and founder’s offspring Stuart Siegel took on an executive role at the company, while one of the company’s turnaround specialists, Jonathan Tibus took the title of Chief Restructuring Officer. Speculation is that Siegel has taken on a larger role in order to position himself to purchase the company.  It’s been reported the company can be yours for a cool $3 million.  

When I met Joe Oliver, I was under the impression that he was a turnaround guy.  I don’t know what another turnaround guy is going to be able to do, but I wish him the best.

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Blogging for Glory

The Social Media Dance

The Social Media Dance

Here’s a great story about the power of social media. 

Last week I was headed to a meeting with Ron Carey, VP of the Targeted Solutions Group at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Ron greeted me in the lobby and as we made our way to the first floor conference room, he mentioned that this blog had been forwarded to him that same morning by Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RTD.  Ron then suggested we hop on the elevator and go up to see Tom.  I was a bit bewildered as to how Tom had stumbled across this humble effort, but I know enough to “go with it” when something positive happens.

When we arrived at the publisher’s office, Tom greeted me warmly and explained that he had found my blog thusly:  I had commented on an article on the RTD’s website the previous day.  Tom saw my comment, was intrigued and googled my name.  He came across this blog and its then lead story, “The Top 7 Things Newspapers Need to Do to Survive.”  He said he found the post interesting and forwarded it to Ron.  Ron agreed that it was indeed an interesting post and it gave him some things to consider.

Nobody gave me a new car or a million dollars, but for us bloggers, knowing that anyone is reading our writing, much less the publisher of the 150 year-old local daily, is the affirmation that warms our soul and keeps us writing.

Beyond the warm fuzzies I felt knowing that this blog had been a topic of conversation in the hallowed halls of Richmond journalism, I was pleased to know that my writing here had helped to facilitate and enhance important business relationships. That’s goodwill that money can’t buy.

And that’s the power of social media.  Blogs and other social media platforms have the power to start conversations and create relationships that might otherwise not exist.  Now that’s powerful!

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The Top 7 Things Newspapers Need to Do to Survive

 

My newspaper crystal ball

My newspaper crystal ball

I was having coffee the other day with my friend Tim Loughran, general manager of Centro de Richmond, a Spanish-language weekly produced by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  The topic was how newspapers will survive and thrive during a time which does not seem to favor them.  That same day I noticed Jon Newman’s piece on the future of newspapers. All of this got me thinking, “what is the future of newspapers?”

 

As you’ve probably noticed, newspapers and their holding companies are struggling to ride out the current economic storm and some have resorted to filing bankruptcy  to stay afloat while others are shutting down completely.  I’ll blame the economy as the primary culprit for the current situation, but it’s no secret that newspapers were struggling before the current downturn.  In fact, they have been thrashing around for more than a decade trying to find a profitable business model in the digital age.  So far they have failed to find one.

Newspapers are frequently their own worst enemy.  I have a journalism degree and I’m aware of the struggle between those on the publishing side who are trying to pay the bills and those on the journalism side who constantly worry about the Chinese Wall dividing publishing and editorial.  Perhaps this is a valid struggle, but if the newspaper shuts down in the middle of the struggle, who wins? Certainly not the readers.  In this environment, the journalists and the publishers need to finally come together.

But that’s a relatively small thing compared to this:  When newspapers began publishing digital editions online and (for the most part) giving their content away for free, they sent a strong message to their customers that will be extremely difficult to take back.  Here’s the message:  “The price paid for subscriptions and newsstand copies are to cover the cost of the newsprint and the distribution.  The content itself does not have any value and that’s why we’re giving it away it for free online.”  I’m sure this is the last thing newspapers wanted to communicate, but that’s in fact what has happened.  It may be possible to stuff that cat back in the bag, but it’s gonna be tough.

Newspapers are “media” companies, but you wouldn’t know it.  Newspaper philosophy works like this:  Hire some reporters and editors and have them develop some content.  Hire some ad sales peoples and have them sell some ads.  Combine the editorial and the advertising (separately of course) into one nice looking publication and deliver it.  Do it again tomorrow.  Maybe it’s those daily deadlines that have blinded newspapers to the reality that every media company must know:  The number one job of newspapers is to connect people to the world around them.  Newspapers connect readers to their community and they connect advertisers to their customers.  The better newspapers understand this, the more successful they will be.  Newspapers are not the only ones guilty of not understanding their business .  Ad agencies often think their job is to create memorable ads and PR agencies may think their job is to crank out pithy press releases.  In fact, their job is also to connect people.

Unfortunately, newspapers have completely missed the boat when it comes to utilizing technology to connect people.  Bloggers, social media and niche media have steadily siphoned off consumers and advertising revenue in a game that newspapers were well poised to win.  That’s because “new media” understands what “old media”  seems blind to.  Connecting people is where the real value is derived.  

Here’s what newspapers need to do to survive.

1.  Jump on the social media bandwagon.  Newspapers are the medium best positioned to connect people who are interested in similar topics.  Social media “microsites” for local communities, for business, for sports, for real estate, etc. will help build the newspaper’s brand while establishing a sense of community among its readers.  Advertisers will surely follow.

2.  Embrace the bloggers.  Bloggers know that their post is only half of what interests readers.  Reader comments are the other half.  Newspapers still don’t understand this and relegate comments to micro-print at the bottom of an online story if they allow comments at all.  Comments and feedback are valuable content.  Why not highlight excellent comments by dragging them into the body of the story instead of relegating them to no-man’s-land?  Why not enlist well known bloggers to lead the discussion?  The fact that readers care enough to comment should be welcomed and celebrated and will help keep interest in the story going long after it’s publication.

3.  The 24-7 news cycle is killing newspapers.  If you know the newspaper business, you know never to pitch a story to a newspaper reporter after about 3pm, because they are often on deadline for the next day’s edition.  Reporters filed once a day and that was it.  That’s changing quickly as online editions try to keep up with breaking news, but it’s still deeply ingrained into the business.  Reporters need to report the news faster and worry less about the polish.  Newspapers need to deliver the news faster in non-traditional ways.

Speaking of non-traditional delivery of the news, here are some suggestions.

4.  Twitter:  Many traditional media outlets are now using twitter to promote stories that have already been written, but they need to use it to deliver the news as it happens in real time.  Forget the links, just send out the tweets until the story has been written, then link to it.

5.  Mobile devices:  The fact that Hearst is launching a wireless e-reader hints that they don’t “get it.”  I can read the news on my iPhone just fine, thank you.  Give me an app fine-tuned for your publication and I will download it and even pay for it if it’s a good one.  Create mobile websites for your advertisers so the content can be linked to the advertising.  Utilize text messaging to deliver editorial and advertising content to readers who are accessing your content on any platform.

6.  Audio:  Every news story of substance should be bundled with advertising into an audio file for download onto an MP3 player for listening in the car or anywhere else.  Webacasters are already creating content for niche audiences that are available live on their websites or can be downloaded for later listening.  

But besides content delivery, this is what’s most obvious and most lacking among newspapers.

7.  Newspapers need to become a marketing partner.  For many local businesses, newspapers may be their only advertising vehicle.  But few newspapers do more than just take ad orders.  Newspapers should be helping their advertisers by hunting for new ways to drive those customer relationships.  Why not offer a free “marketing audit” to make sure Joe’s Lamp Shop is following marketing’s best practices?  Why not offer seminars to businesses on social media, mobile marketing and all the other ways they can drum up business.  And have a product to offer in these areas.  Newspapers have a special and unique relationship with their customers which they must exploit.

Newspapers are the king of content.  They need to be the king of all media too if they are going to survive and flourish.

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Public Relations Trends for 2009

 

My Crystal Ball is Ringing and It's for You

My Crystal Ball is Ringing and It's for You

Some of my fellow bloggers have been banging out PR trends for 2009, so I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon.  And since I now have two weeks of insight into this New Year, my predictions will no doubt be far more accurate than theirs.

 

Here’s my list:

The Gatekeepers Look Scared

One of the most challenging things about media relations has always been coming up with a creative pitch you think the media will like, getting the media’s attention long enough to pitch it, hoping they like it enough to run with it and then praying the media doesn’t run to a water-main break instead of covering your media event.  But for today’s PR pros, there are numerous avenues around the Gatekeepers and directly to your target audience.  As the media continues to feel the financial pressure of a downturn, the Gatekeepers will become more scarce.  Become fluent in all the ways to reach your target audience and you’ll still be able to do your job regardless of the Gatekeepers.

This isn’t your Father’s Public Relations

On a similar vein, the changing media landscape is changing our business.  We now need to be fully conversant in media relations tools that didn’t exist 5 years ago.  Social media, mobile media and the like are great ways to start conversations, and after all we are in the conversation business. Think about all the ways you can start conversations with your target audiences and develop resources to navigate those channels.  Get aboard or get left behind.

The World is Changing, Change with It

In the past, “diversity” was frequently given lip service while business was conducted as usual.  No more my friends.  The demographics of this country are changing rapidly and the Obama Administration will be the face of a New America.  Hispanics will continue to grow in population and increase their economic and political clout.  Other ethnic and racial groups will become energized and outspoken about having their place at the table.  Design outreach strategies for these groups or suffer the consequences.

Global Warming Heats Up

Despite economic turbulence and see-sawing gas prices, Climate Change as a critical global issue is here to stay.  The incoming administration has made it a priority and PR pros need to be able to tell a positive environmental story about their company or client.  The best organizations will design proactive environmental programs that make it easy for their PR folks to communicate effectively to target audiences.  

Back to Basics

Despite the increase in tools and technology relevant to our business, there is no substitution for effective communication.  While the look and sound of that communication may change, one thing that doesn’t change is the critical need to make yourself understood by your target audience.  Effective writing doesn’t just mean good mechanics, it means communicating effectively so that the message is received and acted upon.  Good communicators are hard to find, treasure them.

Research and Measurement are Necessary Evils

Too many organizations and clients today want to do things on the fly or on the cheap.  Unfortunately, when you shoot the gun without aiming first, you will often miss.  The way to take aim is to conduct research on your issue, your product, your audience, your message, your media and so on until you develop a communications strategy that you can have confidence in.  Similarly, measurement must be done to determine if goals were reached (assuming you had measurable goals in the first place) and then adjust your strategy based on your findings.  Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to research and measurement.

Doing Less With More

I’m a stickler for doing things right, but at the end of the day you can only do the best you can with the resources you have.  That’s why it’s so important to find creative ways to harness the resources to do the job right.  Internal resources can often be begged and bartered, external vendors are more willing to strike a deal to get some work.  Don’t be afraid to be creative or haggle when it comes to marshaling resources.

SEO Needs SOS

Search engine optimization isn’t just for web heads anymore.  Nearly all of your target audiences will seek out information about your company by using a search engine.  All of the great PR in the world won’t help if the search engine results are not flattering, are inaccurate or point to a competitor.  PR people need to be vigilant about their organization or client’s search engine results and take action when necessary.  SEO strategies frequently span PR and web disciplines, so talk to your web colleagues today so you’ll be ready tomorrow.

Social Media Changes Everything

Social Media has created a tsunami of change for traditional media.  Newspaper circulation and ad dollars are plummeting while tech savvy consumers get their news from the web, from cell phones and from non-traditional sources like the blogosphere (because that’s the way we bloggers roll).  Networking sites like facebook and LinkedIn have created social and business networks that are radically changing the communications landscape due to their insular nature.  Many media consumers now feel they have everything they need within their network platforms and needn’t venture out to get anything else.  I can get a job, post a job, keep up with friends, keep abreast of current events and even buy products and services, often without going far from my network.  Finding ways to intersect and disrupt social networks without intruding will increasingly become a sought-after area of expertise.

Those are my Public Relations Predictions for 2009.  Feel free to put them to work for you.

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Filed under Blogging, Climate Change, Green Marketing, Mobile Marketing, Multicultural Marketing, PR, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Business Blogs Blow

 

Biz Blogs Suck

Biz Blogs Suck

Just kidding!  Not all business blogs blow, just most of them.  

 

According to an article in Monday’s Washington Post, Technorati says that of 112.5 million blogs on the web, 5,000 are corporate.  I’d wager that the number of small business blogs is much larger.  A Forrester report from June finds that fewer B2B blogs were started in 2007 than in 2006.  That is startling. Forrester hints that the resources corporations expended on blogs did not generate the expected results.  

I think the problem is with the execution.

There are certainly some corporate blogs that work very well.  But here’s why most don’t:

Corporations don’t understand that blogs are best produced by people who know how to communicate. Since blogs generally come in written form, the best people to write blogs are people who can write.

Blogs are intended to start a conversation.  A conversation implies two-way communication.  Many businesses are afraid of two-way communication because they don’t want to hear other people’s opinions about their business, their products or their services.  Many companies want the conversation to be one-sided.  We call that advertising.

Business blogs are a great way for a business to be a part of the community and to create a community of key constituents such as customers, employees, suppliers, local residents and/or anyone interested in the offered product or service. Blogs provide a rare opportunity to put a human face on a company.  Most businesses don’t understand this.

Business blogs are the best but most underutilized consumer research tool available to business. Blog conversations are like free focus groups, you can learn a tremendous amount from listening to the comments.  Few businesses take advantage of this great opportunity and even fewer adjust their business or their offerings based on this feedback.

Blogs by commitee really blow.  One or two talented people can easily run a great company blog and still have time for other tasks.  The key is to have your finger on the pulse on the company and its community and then be able to use blog technology (thanks wordpress!) and your communication skills to reach your audience.  It ain’t rocket science and it doesn’t need a committee, a task force or any other corporate bureaucracy.  According to this post in Above the Buzz, the Forrester report found that team blogging didn’t work for B2B bloggers.  I’d venture a guess that it doesn’t work for B2C bloggers or any other blogger either.

Like everything else in life, the results are commensurate with the effort.  Too many business blogs are left to wither on the vine due to lack of attention.  Ignoring an audience is the best way to lose them.

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Are Newspapers Blogger Friendly?

 

Newspaper killer

Newspaper killer

I recently came across this story in the unfortunately named Buttermilk & Molasses blog about the relationship (or lack thereof) between local newspapers and the blogging community. Newspapers are in a tough spot. While their content is still valued, the value of their portability as a news aggregating device has been almost totally lost and is being replaced by handheld phones and organizers (I’m an iPhone fan). Unlike newspapers, these devices allow users to access much more news and information, not to mention links, multimedia content, etc. than any newspaper ever could. I received an offer from the Wall Street Journal last week for a year of internet access AND daily delivery of the newspaper all for $99. A great deal for sure, but I was thinking to myself: Why would I want the newspaper?

Given the harsh realities of the newspaper business, it would seem to make sense for daily papers to bolster their resources by adding feeds from bloggers to their content. Traditionalists may be shocked at the suggestion, giving excuses such as: the accuracy of these posts cannot be confirmed, these people don’t have the right training, how will we manage this animal once we let it out of the cage, etc.

But the truth is that newspapers need bloggers in order to help them become relevant in the “net-media age” and bloggers (being the shy bunch we are) would love the exposure. So why not work together?

UPDATE:  Apparently media buyers think it’s a great idea for newspapers to be more aggressive online by partnering with or buying niche web sites.  My bet is that newspapers will follow the money.

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