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20.4.09

Post no. 1,000: the dangers of too many press releases 

Photograph from http://www.flickr.com/photos/leonefabre/When there’s a , people tend to act predictably. In 2001, they began cutting their , because online ads were further down the food chain than they are today. This time, a lot of companies have cut above-the-line spends in favour of .
   I have a lot of friends in public relations (PR), so this post isn’t targeted at them. But I think they know, with the rise of their business, that they are the flavour of the first and second quarters of 2009.
   With several problems: if everyone’s sending releases, how are they to be differentiated? It’s becoming harder and harder, and those of us in the already receiving a few thousand emails a week are more likely to ignore them.
   Secondly, if everyone’s sending releases and there’s not enough spending on above-the-line , then print have no choice but to cull pages—thereby minimizing the chances of that release making it.
   It doesn’t make much difference to online publications, either. While the second problem doesn’t exist, the first one does—and when you’re international as Lucire is, quantity far exceeds quality.
   If the PRs really want to do well, they might consider getting into advertising themselves, and find ways to balance their work. Or, there may be new-media ways that remain unexamined—but even there, they need to create trust and relationships with the audience, and it’s not a cheap exercise to do that even with a Facebook page or Twitter account.
   There is still a place for releases—especially for those parties who are more limited in choice—but I advocate moderation.
   At this point, the rise of PR can’t continue endlessly, and on that topic I’m going to defer to my friend Stefan Engeseth.
   I’m still bound by confidentiality but in a few months’ time, Stefan will tell you more about the sort of topic I’ve hinted at in this post.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is post no. 1,000 on this blog. It’s taken three years and three months to get here, longer than what I expected.
   This blog has changed since I began. Back in January 2006, I was a daily blogger, keeping up a frequency that proved untenable. Also, I blogged initially about a lot of my working principles—and they don’t change. There seemed little point repeating a lot of those ideas.
   When Vox launched into beta toward the end of 2006, I put my trivial stuff there, reserving The Persuader for more work-oriented posts. That cut down the number of posts, as did general fatigue of keeping up the daily routine.
   I seem to have rediscovered a little bit of vigour for blogging about work over the last six months—especially as the media began bandying the word recession about.
   It’s not as though media misbehaviour and injustice ceased existing because I wasn’t blogging. The challenging business environment, too, created extra opportunities to blog.
   I didn’t expect the 1,000th blog to be about —I thought it might have been a profound piece on branding. But, remember, we are in charge of the technology, and the above was the topic on my mind. I did tell myself that I would not make the topic a “commemorative” one, one which somehow gathered up all the different interests my company has, and turn them into a TV season finalé of sorts.
   I thank everyone, whether you’ve been with me since post no. 1 in January 2006 or you joined me recently through Twitter. I look forward to continuing the journey with you.
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18.4.09

Email to Facebook to Twitter—maybe the next step is becoming Cybermen 

Simon Young at Tweetup
I thought a was a gathering of Tweeters at one venue and they all go on their mobile devices to Tweet on Twitter. Imagine my surprise when my first Tweetup, to which I was invited by my old friend Simon Young (@audaciousgloop to those of you on Twitter, and photographed above), was actually a normal social gathering, at the Malthouse on Courtenay Place last Friday.
   The differences include the following, and they are indicative of life in 2009:
   • people made introductions by their handles in some cases, not their real names;
   • some really did Tweet on their mobile devices while there;
   • business cards have Twitter IDs on them; and
   • people talked about Tweeting one another when they left, instead of ‘Call me,’ or the last two years’ ‘ me.’
   Sy and I had a good chat about how the virtual landscape has changed since we met in 2000, when we thought groups were still cool things, and we had been using Google for about a year. Sy’s on the forefront on a lot of these , developments, working a lot on the cloud, and expanding his expertise with a lot of the latest thinking from around the world.
   We discussed over dinner some of Loïc Le Meur’s ventures in and we both agreed that his approach would be one we’d like to follow ourselves: have a great network with sources to fund new ideas that have mass appeal. But we also reminisced—because to both of us, is dead as a medium.
   It’s a chore, a means to send attachments, but it no longer provides the same level of pleasure as it once did. In most respects it has replaced the traditional letter. I enjoy it on days when I can keep on top of the volume—though I have met people over the last two years who think that my getting 2,000–3,000 emails a week is nothing compared to what they get. I also enjoy it on days when I’m doing business development for my work—I get the same buzz I did when email was open to those early adopters, all willing to build a global with a bit of Clinton-era optimism.
   I said to Simon that I needed to learn to be a rude bastard and not reply to everyone—a bad habit I had from the offline days. I do, however, wonder what the convention is. I have messages going back to 2003 that need replies—a few weeks ago I had a good catch-up on 2005 emails.
   So, in 2009 is it acceptable to leave things unanswered, as people move from one favoured, trendy to the next (email in the 1990s–mid 2000s, to Facebook in 2006–8, to Twitter in 2008–9) and that someone in the modern world simply “understands” that one is no longer available on a certain medium? Are people now expected to keep up with which is the next popular medium and get attention with others by predicting where they will be next on the ? And if I can’t cope as well today with a few thousand emails a week, how are those of you with 5,000–10,000 or more managing—on top of your Facebook DMs, Tweets and SMS ?
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15.4.09

Vista Print has two cool fonts on their systems, but … 

Vista Print choices: JY Ætna LF

Both JY Ætna and JY Integrity are fonts that users of Vista Print can select to make their business cards.
   When I first found this out from my friend Dale, who uses Integrity on hers, I was quite chuffed. But then I thought: I don’t remember seeing among our .
   I am not accusing this company of piracy. Far from it. It could well have licensed the legitimately for each location. I am simply curious which of our retailers the deal was done with, and whether everything’s above board. Maybe someone at the retailer end goofed. Maybe the fonts were part of a compilation. Maybe Vista is indeed among the client lists, but I missed that month’s report. Maybe we messed up on the wording of the licence that we provided to that particular retailer. It would be nice for everyone to put things right. This is just regular, everyday commerce. Any explanation is conceivable.
   If it is all above board, then I’d welcome the chance to promote the fact that JY&A Fonts’ products are good enough for Vista Print to use. I love the fact that they are being used in an online application.
   We win, they win, customers become aware of more choice.
   So I contacted Vista Print. I asked if we could do a joint promotion. And I asked about the licensing, just to be sure. How hard could it be, after all, to figure out where one purchased a couple of font licences from? And why not have the opportunity to promote yourself further?
   I appreciate this is an international company, but then I also know that the purchases would be centralized.
   It’s been a couple of months and I’ve heard nothing. I’ve also heard from a colleague that he’s been trying to find out the same thing—for a year.
   Vista Print, your silence has me worried, and you already have some unhappy customers.
   Fast forward to this week. I mentioned Vista Print on Twitter. One of my Twitter contacts mentioned she wasn’t a customer, but she gets their . (I did, too, and in French—the same company or a licensee? Sadly, I’ve deleted them all, so I can’t back this up.)
   And Vista Print itself has a Twitter account. In fact, they Tweeted me, asking if they could be of service:

Twitter dialogue with Jack Yan

   I said they could and asked for a contact address (presumably via private messaging) so we could chat through the above.
   And what did I receive via private messaging?
   Spam, entitling me to 25 per cent off.

Twitter DM to Jack Yan

   At the moment, these chaps aren’t putting a single foot right.
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14.4.09

Advertising up, and it’s not Adsense 

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/earwood/I’m three posts shy of 1,000 on this . While I passed that number long ago with personal ramblings over at my Vox blog—the one with all my trivialities—The Persuader is a little more special.
   It’s the blog that is hosted at the domain that takes my name and is, therefore, more tied in with my .
   Three years ago, not long after I began posting here in January 2006, I asked readers if they would mind if I put in a few ads. The answer was that it was up to me and there would be no objection if I did.
   I figured that since there are nearly 1,000 pages on this blog, I might as well make use of some of the real estate here.
   This blog is run with , a service I threatened to quit numerous times, but the prospect of shifting hundreds of posts to Wordpress was too daunting to a layman. In the last month Blogger has, on its Dashboard, included a ‘Monetize’ link, reminding bloggers that they could sign up with .
   I took the bait. After all, I believe I have readers’ blessings to do this.
   However, I found, after being a web publisher for 15-plus years, that Adsense is, at best, confusing.
   Even LinkExchange was easier when it was set up.
   Blogger had some link that allowed an ad to be placed directly into the blog layout, which is fine, but I then noticed that those ads did not have their own IDs in the Adsense menu for my account. I had to re-set a whole new bunch of ads.
   On all the other ad networks I have worked with since, well, the dawn of web publishing, it has been a very simple matter of pasting in some code. It’s sort of the same with Adsense, except you have far more screens to go through. And other things are just poorly explained. In fact, Adsense goes against the Google ideals of simplicity of use.
   Others may disagree as I realize many people use Adsense effortlessly, but I think I may be too set in my ways.
   So the Adsense ads that were displaying on this blog over the past few days are now gone, replaced by another bunch from Burst Media.
   The Google agreement prevents me from discussing specifics but in short, I don’t see what all the fuss is about regarding Adsense.
   For some of the blogs with higher traffic, I don’t see why Adsense would make sense.
   Burst supplies some of the advertising for Lucire and Autocade, and they have been pretty good to deal with. (Gorilla Nation Media is another company I can recommend via Lucire.)
   The ads are not very intrusive, and I have not put them into the feeds. They only appear on the blog’s web pages, and what little they’ll bring in will offset the hosting fees when the Kiwi dollar slips against the US.
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13.4.09

It don’t matter if you’re left or right 

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/huffstutterrobertl/There are very few people who are all liberal or all conservative. I tend to find people are a mixture—it would be wrong to say there’s even a continuum between left and right. We tend to be a pick-and-mix people, coloured by our experiences and our hopes. We change our views as we age.
   Last year, I stood in the General Election for a left-wing party but am one of the more centrist members in the Alliance.
   I tend to say I am , which some people have mistaken for socialist when in fact it is closer to . And some folks think libertarian is an inherently right-wing idea. Yet both the Alliance and the right-wing ACT Party here in New Zealand have incorporated libertarian ideas, if one defines that as maximizing personal . There are areas where the two diametrically opposed parties agree as a result. They simply disagree on how that liberty is to be achieved: the Alliance believing in the necessity of some state mechanisms and nationalization of some industries for the sake of job creation. ACT is a monetarist, technocratic party, and I think some of you know how I feel about that.
   I love the ideals of patriotism and freedom, I believe more in Keynes than the technocracy, and I wish to put people first. When it comes to running this country I want to see locally owned get better breaks than foreign-owned ones, whether at the local level or the national level. I want to encourage domestic ownership of international businesses, rather than the other way around. I believe in the innovative spirit of New Zealanders, and that everyone should have pride in themselves and their culture.
   So am I right-wing or left-wing, liberal or conservative? Other than economic theory I think both sides would agree that the majority of the last paragraph applies to them. If we have a sense of right and wrong, then I am not sure it is that important we belong in a “camp”. Even the words are meaningless: across the Tasman our Australian friends have a Liberal Party—and that’s the conservatives.
   Fight corruption, support the good, build friendships, piss off the evil. Not a bad strategy to have through life.
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11.4.09

‘I can’t believe it’s a law firm!’ 

JY Alia

I don’t know why we didn’t mention it before, but it’s finally been rectified on the JY&A Fonts site.
   For a good part of my career, the legal issues surrounding have fascinated me. A few people knew I had this love, and since the 1990s I’ve done a few cases involving typeface design, and typography.
   Mostly it’s been expert witness work in trade mark disputes, and there have been cases where my testimony has been needed to determine whether there would be confusion in the market-place or sufficient differentiation. Occasionally there are the fun ones, where I’ve been asked to determine if a particular document could have been typeset at the time the party claims. There have been legal opinions on the protection over designs and metrics.
   People who hired me to do this work either knew I had a knack for legal work anyway, usually through the branding side of my expertise—and found this out by accident. Others knew, but they tended to be friends and colleagues who already had a connection to type.
   To me, it’s more fun than being a solicitor as I can legitimately pick and choose cases with the expert witness work—I won’t be a witness if I can’t support the client referred to me, and attorneys run things by me first.
   I always go on about differentiation being a cornerstone of and it amazes me that one of the big differentiators of my own company wasn’t noted. It is partly true that we spend time seeing to our clients and not to ourselves.
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4.4.09

How not to be a publisher 

When I started Autocade a year ago, I wrote to a of car magazines to ask if he might have staff who would wish to contribute. If they were car nuts like myself, they might wish to help out—or so the theory went.
   What I got back was pretty insulting. Even though I had told this chap I had been a customer of his for a quarter-century, he spent a good part of his message writing a threat to me.
   First up, his staff were far too busy to work on anything like this. (Guess there’s no down time there—maybe I’m wrong to encourage my team to have interests and maintain personal blogs.) Secondly, if I took any part of his or books, he’d sue.
   I’m not saying he shouldn’t defend his company’s interests but considering this was his first-ever contact with a customer of 25 years, you’d think the decent thing to do would be, if he was not thrilled with helping, to wish me well and leave it at that. If there were considerations then his not inconsiderable resources could monitor Autocade.
   I run a small company and we monitor copyright infringements online.
   A guilty-till-proved-innocent approach did him no favours and if I weren’t a professional, now would be a good time to name him and expose his cowardice and inappropriate behaviour.
   Dude, look at my signature file. I have a law degree. I am a magazine publisher, too. Don’t you think I would understand the situation with copyright better than you ever could? Wouldn’t it have been wiser to run my name through Google to find out that I have been advocating copyright protection before making an ass of yourself?
   I responded in a gentlemanly fashion and assured him there’d be no infringements, and to that I received no further correspondence.
   Which goes to show his only motive was to shoot others down—for what? To risk damaging his as I potentially talk about what kind of moron runs that publishing group?
   Pity, really. Whatever goodwill he built as a publisher over a quarter-century he lost in an email that greatly wanted for collegial respect.
   I would have thought the end of this first decade of the 21st century was not a good time to burn bridges for the print profession.
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Telecom hires robots, operators fired? 

Smash robots from doyouremember.co.ukThis is roughly how a conversation with the 123 operator, with a Russian name, went last Thursday evening.

—I’m Jack, and there are no in this booth at Johnston Street, .
—Call 018.
—But it would be handy to have these books, right?
—Call 018.
—You’re not very helpful, are you?

(Silence)

—Oh well, goodbye then.

(Silence)

   I would have expected, ‘Thank you for letting us know, but we don’t put phone books in there any more,’ or ‘We’ll take note of your call, thank you.’
   So the difference between a 123 operator and a robot is what? It must be pretty cheap to mount a tape recording where the only thing said is, ‘Call 018. Call 018. Call 018.’ Who even needs a robot?
   I know Russians say goodbye, too, when prompted. It’s not as though this was a cultural challenge even to an operator with a bug up his ass.
   I’m none the wiser. Phone books served a greater purpose than just being a directory of numbers. They helped us figure out addresses in case we had remembered wrongly, for instance. Someone hasn’t thought this through.
   And, in some cases, they are more reliable than human beings who can make mistakes.
   I’m not going to call 018 as the Telecom signage in the phone booth says this costs me—when I believe phone books, which the company provides free to most of us (that is, when it delivers them, and my neighbours have a few things to say about their non-appearance this year), have always offered that information for nought.
   I also do not know how the billing would work on the 018 service. I call using a Telstra calling card sometimes, so how would Telecom know what account to charge?
   Perhaps someone from Telecom would care to enlighten me about the absence of phone books and courtesy on the 123 service—and just what we are supposed to do when we need to double-check an address or number.
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1.4.09

Australia is as bad as we are in dealing with intersexuality 

Photo by Ricardo in PRI’ve wanted to write this blog post since last year, after a reader came to me having read an entry I made about the prejudice against intersex people. It wasn’t that I wasn’t inspired to write it—but I felt I had to be in the right frame of mind to do the subject justice.
   Last year, I had visited the New Dowse in Lower Hutt where there was a photographic exhibition about , and , which a friend had picked up on. She relayed an incident to me about how two intersex clients at a gym were mistreated, and it obviously struck a chord with my reader.
   The reader, based in Sydney, has a huge amount of experience in her field, yet once she was outed, her experience was that she could not get work again. Others in their professions have suffered similar fates in .
   One of her friends, working for a multinational, has workmates who knew of her medical history and told others in related fields. When being interviewed, she was asked, ‘So what is this about you being transgender?’
   She was told that she would definitely not be considered for the job and the recruiter never called her again.
   While transgender and intersex are very different things, all it takes is this sort of prejudice to stop people who may be leaders in their field from getting a job.
   Not to mention all the medical experimentation that has literally gone on—because narrow-minded people in society demands genders are assigned.
   I was surprised to find that Australians and New Zealanders, known for being relatively open minded and quick to condemn others for, say, backwards laws over homosexuals, would still harbour such resentment and prejudice toward the intersex community. New Zealand has had a transgender MP, but now I wonder if an intersex candidate ran, would there be the same acceptance? I am not so sure.
   It disgusts me to know that people are being denied basic human rights. Last year I blogged about the against two intersex gym-goers here—and the Australian situations are equally shameful for our neighbours across the Tasman.
   To my Australian friends reading this, it isn’t about trans-Tasman rivalry and who is better than whom at treating different groups. Let’s face it: we both have a long way to go before we can even begin to consider ourselves enlightened or progressive.
   We aren’t far enough advanced as human beings to stop one group as “freaks”.
   It’s about bringing to the surface the sort of crap we give people in both our nations.
   When you hear these incidents you just have to wonder what it does to the perceptions of our countries.
   Maybe it’s because I would never prejudge someone because of their gender or sexual orientation that I find it unfathomable that anyone would.
   In fact I would probably give someone who didn’t fit into some predefined category more props because they had to fight that much harder to get to where they are.
   I’m all for bringing shame to the companies who discriminate against the intersex community, and I’d bet that most readers of this blog feel the same way.
   I encourage greater dialogue and if there are commenters who know of cases, I really would love to see some boycotts happening to hurt these brands at their bottom line.
   If I may tie this back in to the usual topics on this blog, audiences control these days, not corporations. And we hold the power in our hands over whom we purchase from. I certainly wouldn’t want to give my business to the multinational that my blog visitor mentioned above—and would dearly love to know who these ratbags are.
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Note

Entries from 2006 to the end of 2009 were done on the Blogger service. As of January 1, 2010, this blog has shifted to a Wordpress installation, with the latest posts here.
   With Blogger ceasing to support FTP publishing on May 1, I have decided to turn these older pages in to an archive, so you will no longer be able to enter comments. However, you can comment on entries posted after January 1, 2010.


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