Selling Dumbo


My latest post at The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing for Dumbo.

The marketing has touted how grand the scale of the story is and how singular the director’s creative vision was to bring it to life.
Disney, fresh from finalizing its acquisition of Fox, brings Dumbo to theaters this week. The latest in the studio’s ongoing series of live action remakes of its animated classics, the movie stars Colin Farell, Eva Green, Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton under the direction of Tim Burton.

via Live-Action ‘Dumbo’ Hopes Nostalgia (And Tim Burton) Will Bring In Moviegoers | Hollywood Reporter

Selling US


My latest contribution at The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the marketing campaign for Us.

Universal has mounted a campaign that emphasizes the movie’s message of identity and body horror, while also making sure audiences understand it comes from the same filmmaker behind the much buzzed-about Get Out. Here’s a look at the campaign:

via ‘Us’ Marketing Reveals a Twist — But Promises Much More | Hollywood Reporter

The Marriage of Colleges and Social Media Influencers Is Bad News

Last week a lot of people’s cages were rattled when it was revealed dozens of the nation’s wealthiest individuals had paid outrageous sums to consultants and others who would help their kids get into the most elite colleges and universities around. The situation starkly revealed the disconnect between the ideal – that an education is open to anyone based on merit – and the reality, that those with privilege have unique advantages not available to the common citizenry.

It shouldn’t have been that surprising. Earlier this year there was a report that part of the education gap between white and black students is due to the lack of black teachers in lower grades. The top 20 colleges in the country receive over one-quarter of private donations despite educating less than two percent of students. The system is skewed in favor of the wealthy and has been for a good long while.

One aspect of the story that got some new attention is how colleges are on some level working with social media influencers such as one of the young women caught up in the scandal as part of their marketing and recruitment. The schools may not actually enlist the paid services of these influencers, but having one around who’s using the campus and facilities as background for their #sponcon certainly isn’t a bad thing. Other brands are already targeting influencers at college as a way to bring their message to the similarly-aged audience they have.

While there’s some disagreement that colleges are actually considering whether an applicant is an online influencer with a massive following, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility. A study last year showed one third of college admissions officers actually reviewed the social media posts of those applying to the school while two thirds feel doing so would be justified.
The reasons cited include monitoring to make sure kids weren’t using racist language online or engaging in behavior that could be unethical or otherwise unacceptable, something that would reflect poorly on the school if anyone made the connection.

If colleges are on some level showing preferential treatment to those who have built up influential online profiles and personas, it signals a troubling future not just when considering equal access to education but equal consideration for future employment as well.

70 percent of hiring managers already report researching the social media profile and posts of those who have applied for work at a company and almost half say they monitor what current employees are doing online. The emphasis is usually on how those posts and profiles might be used by current or potential employers to discipline or even fire someone, but there’s the converse in that they are looking for credentials and endorsements along with industry-specific content.

Notably, 18 percent of respondents said they were specifically looking for whether or not the individual had a large social media following.

It’s not that far-fetched to think that someone’s social media influence and the size of their follower network will come to be a bigger factor when it comes to who does and doesn’t get hired. After all, more and more companies are engaging in influencer marketing campaigns to the extent some agencies are bringing those influencers in-house to gain unfettered access to their creativity. Macy’s and other retailers are even looking within their own ranks for those with sizable social networks to become brand ambassadors as a way to avoid becoming entangled with outside influencers who may be problematic in some way.

In fact it’s a road we’ve been down, at least partly, before. Back in the early years of the decade there was a substantial conversation around how someone’s Klout score – an imperfect (at best) measure of someone’s expertise or influence on a topic – might be used in the hiring process. There were reports that people were being rejected for jobs because their Klout score was too low while others were more seriously considered because of a high score, one that likely didn’t meaningfully reflect reality. Professors were even preparing students to keep their scores up to increase their odds of finding work.

[In brief, my problems with Klout are centered around how it mistook engagement for expertise. Someone who was Retweeted a lot or who got a lot of Facebook comments was seen as more of an expert on a topic than someone who didn’t. You could have two decades of experience and multiple degrees on a subject but if you got fewer replies on Twitter than someone who knows how to scratch itching ears you were out of luck.]

The problems with using social media influence as a measure of who does or doesn’t get hired is troubling enough that listing all the issues inherent in the idea would take days. Such status is akin to a form of professional accreditation or certification, the attainment of which can cost money and necessitate time many don’t have. Such status is indicative of class and privilege itself, with only those who can afford to achieve it then being seen as qualified as moving into higher-paying jobs. It’s another way systems supposedly based on merit are actually skewed in favor of those with resources.

Not everyone can be an official, recognized (and paid) influencer on social media. The bar for achieving that level shifts constantly as platforms come in and out of style. Someone who’s devoted significant attention to LinkedIn may find themselves shut out of work when it’s not what a company is looking for, or when attention shifts to some other network. Such criteria are just as discriminatory as anything else that’s less about the quality of the work and more about the show someone is capable of putting on. And it discounts the efforts of someone who enters an agency at a lower level and finds they are there to support the profile of a “Big Name” instead of building up their own industry reputation.

What happens in what sector, such as education, will impact another. If colleges go deeper into actively choosing new students based on the size and influence of their social networks that will bleed into the job market, even if there’s no distinct intent to do so. It’s something schools should consider when making their choices.

Whose Voice Is It?

I’ve been working on a writing project for about a year now, opening a new Google Doc in April of last year. In that time I’ve pitched it as a book as well as a series of contributed bylines. I’ve also considered how I could publish it myself, either as blog posts or through some kind of self-publishing platform.

As you can imagine, the thoughts and emotions on this topic have been over the place as all relevant factors are considered, mulled and weighed. What I have right now is very much a first draft (and it’s still less than half finished at that) and I recognize the fact that before it becomes public I would need it edited by a professional.

What I’ve struggled with more than anything is that I’m concerned my message may be watered down in some way, shape or form. I know what I want to say and while I may be a bit wordy (OK, extremely wordy), what I’ve written is all in the service of making a point I feel is important on a topic I feel strongly about.

In the back of my mind I still see this project as a book, but then yesterday I saw this.

Again, I’m the first person to admit I need an editor. Those I’ve worked with at Ad Age, Adweek, The Hollywood Reporter and other freelance outlets have been wonderful, making my writing really come together in ways I didn’t see when working on it.

O’Neil makes a valid point, though, that has changed my mindset at the moment. He’s made me reevaluate what I might do with this project, if the best outlet and voice is my own as opposed to someone else’s platform and the voice altered – even if ever-so-slightly – by an editor while the content is constricted by maximum word counts, page restrictions and other limits on form, all of which impacts function.

It’s not like this is new thinking, since I regularly consider whether something I’ve written should be pitched or published, with pieces that are rejected (either overtly or implicitly) winding up on one of my own blogs. But this is bigger and the decision-making process is different since one of my primary issues is that I don’t want to feel as if I didn’t take a shot that could have lead to something.

I’m curious how many other writers go through this process and what issues and factors have weighed most heavily in their thinking.

Less Of Your Marketing Matters Than You Thought

There’s a standard in the marketing/advertising field that someone has to be exposed to X number of messages about your product or brand before they choose to make a purchase. In some cases that’s up to a dozen instances of what’s called “effective frequency” in others it’s as little as three. A good chunk of the content marketing industry is based on that premise, since putting more material out there to either pushed to the public or available to them via search.

There may be some truth to that, but a new study shows less of that marketing may be influential than previously thought.

At least that’s the conclusion that can be reached after reading a new study showing people don’t use as much information in their decision making processes as they claim to. What the research found is that people tend to overestimate how deeply they ponder or evaluate factors and new inputs to appear smarter and more prone to deep contemplation and evaluation. Instead, the actual decision is made early on and is predicated largely on an emotional reaction to the first instance they’re exposed to.

To coin a phrase, first impressions matter.

Think about that the next time you’re considering a campaign that has as a central tenet reaching the same audience a dozen or more times. Everything beyond those first couple of ads or messages hasn’t done much at all to change someone’s feelings or opinions of your product or service if they’ve already elicited a negative emotional reaction in the audience.

Advertisers and marketers are used to that old adage “Half my ad budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half,” an expression of the frustration felt over not having insights into which parts of a campaign actually changed people’s minds. This study would suggest that it’s whichever half is devoted to repeatedly putting the same message in front of the same segments. Such repetition isn’t reinforcing anything, as the decision was likely made well before the campaign got to that point.

The researchers ran several tests in a variety of environments to come to their conclusions, and it may be worthwhile for marketers to devote time and resources to conducting their own testing about how much frequency actually moves the needle on interest or intent.

Here are some question to ask:

  • Is the audience’s intent substantively different after the second or third repetition compared to after the 10th or 12th?
  • How are you altering the media mix to reach different segments instead of the same one or two over and over again?
  • Can you increase interest or intent by reaching the same segment with markedly different messages each time instead of the same one repeatedly?

There are more, of course, that can go into your message testing, but having some idea of how repetition truly changes people’s minds has the potential to help you make more informed media placement decisions. That means you’re getting more return on spending, something that should be a priority for every marketing professional around.

PWT (Productivity While Traveling)

There’s pressure on many workers to use every moment to increase their productivity. That’s partly because they’re being asked to do more than they can reasonably fit into a 40 hour work week and partly because not utilizing every possible second in service to an employer is often seen as a sign you’re not committed enough to the company. That makes you expendable, which is a position no one wants to be in.

That impetus is why you see articles like this full of tips on how to maintain productivity while flying. While the focus is specifically on entrepreneurs and small business owners, it also is meant to appeal and speak to all kinds of workers, from those who aspire to such titles to the everyday line employee who is feeling the weight of expectations that when they step off the plane they will have Gotten Stuff Done. That may take the form of:

  • Maintaining email connectivity, answering and sending message while in transit
  • Finishing (or making progress on) those reports or projects that are due in an unreasonable period of time
  • Some other form of overt productivity

Internet access now being widely available on flights has certainly ramped up these expectations. Whether an individual is paying for it themselves or expensing it to the company, there’s now little to no excuse for them to not be actively working and available while in the air. That internet access may be slow and unreliable, but you better have it.

I’ll make an admission here: When I was traveling frequently for work I would often intentionally *not* go online.

The reasons for doing so varied. Sometimes it was practical and the flight was simply too short to really get anything done. Or there was actual offline work I could be doing that email and messaging frequently pulled me away from when I was online. Other times it was more principled. Often a flight was a precursor to a long day of other work responsibilities such as client meetings, so if I had the chance to enjoy a couple hours reading a book or doing some personal writing I’d seize them.

I was still going to put in an 8+ hour day when I landed, so it’s not as if I was ducking out on anything, I was just shifting my availability, not trying to steal from my employer.

If anything this pressure to make travel – previously a period free of productivity expectations – into a time that’s still filled with work is indicative of a desire on the part of companies to get more than what they’re paying for out of their employees. With most full-time workers exempt from overtime pay, anything above and beyond a 40-hour work week is free productivity given to the employer. There’s no carrot – additional compensation – offered for working extra hard or extra long, just a stick, the fear that not being constantly available (including during travel) will communicate you don’t value the job and therefore may be fired.

It’s not just air travel, which usually encompasses a big chunk of time, that is or will be subject to these expectations. There are just as many (if not more) tips offered and apps suggested to help you remain productive while on your normal commute or during other presumed “downtime.” Employees are assumed to be available because of the ubiquity of devices and services that mean they can still answer emails or take part in calls even if they’re on the train or in their car.

That’s only going to become more pervasive as autonomous cars are introduced to the general public. It’s already on the rise as adoption of in-car voice assistants grows, allowing you to receive and respond to messages without taking your hands off the wheel.

For companies it’s a fine line to walk. The time spent commuting or traveling is time the individual worker is spending on work-related activities but for which they’re not compensated. Some businesses pay or support commuting costs, but their incentive for doing so was recently removed as they can no longer deduct such expenses. Still, they’re not paid more for either the time itself or for any additional work that’s done while on the train, plane, bus or taxi.

If companies are going to continue requiring workers to commute to central offices or travel to other locations for business purposes, it’s not just the mileage that should be reimbursed. At the very least there should be the understanding that if an individual is not being paid for the hours spent in transit there’s no expectation they will be working in that time. Such a situation is only fair, as the employee isn’t then feeling the pressure to be overtly productive in a period when they could otherwise be catching up on a book or movie they don’t otherwise have time to enjoy and the employer isn’t needing to shell out additional pay for additional work.

That disconnect is what this whole issue boils down to, the disparity between the pay offered and the work done. While set annual salaries are more predictable for everyone involved, they also favor the employer who can change the expectations communicated to employees at any point to get more productivity for the money they’ve offered.

Did…Did People Forget How Podcasts Worked?

The term “Netflix for podcasts” or “YouTube for podcasts” has been thrown around in a number of recent articles about the future of the format. Specifically, a handful of companies are trying to position themselves as the leading portal for anyone interested in listening to podcasts and therefore bring in the lion’s share of advertising that’s forecasted to double this year.

Spotify is betting on exclusive shows, as are both Pandora as part of its expanded push into podcast hosting and the newly-launched Luminary subscription service and . That approach is certainly akin to the Netflix model, which is increasingly reliant on exclusive material to draw in subscribers.

It’s also antithetical to the approach that podcasts have taken since their introduction over 15 years ago.

In a recent interview, Anchor CEO Michael Mignano summed up the open nature of podcasts perfectly.

My point is that the distribution of podcasts, unlike these other platforms like Twitter and YouTube and Snapchat and Instagram, is that the distribution of podcasts is fragmented, and it’s because of RSS. So the way podcasts work now is you have an RSS feed, and then the RSS feed can be consumed by a number of different players or consumption platforms.

As he explains, that RSS feed is platform agnostic, working on any service that acts as a reader. To date that’s included iTunes, Overcast, Spotify and other services, all of which have made podcasts available for free (unless specified by the publisher) and available for listening on any of a variety of devices. That Podcast app on your iPhone? It’s an RSS reader, as is any other software that catches the feed of the shows you subscribe to.

When someone talks about creating “the Netflix of podcasts” what they’re talking about is restricting access to only those who are paying for it. That payment is necessary for the platform company because the ad revenue isn’t going to be sufficient to cover the cost of licensing (or even producing) the shows being offered.

What results is the same sort of fragmented podcast landscape that can currently be found in the streaming video industry Netflix operates in. If you want to watch “Russian Doll,” “Homecoming, “Star Trek Discovery” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” you need subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access and Hulu. There’s no one clearinghouse for all those shows as well as any others you might be interested in.

Spotify, Audible, Pandora and other players want to do likewise for podcasts. But the user experience for audio is much different than it is for video, and having to actively switch between apps to listen to all the shows you’re interested in may not be something the audience will do when all they want is to listen to a bunch of recent episodes while in the car, on the train, while working or in some other situation where the ideal is to hit “Play” and just work through a reverse-chronological feed.

Such fragmentation is likely to only get worse. There’s a substantial disconnect between podcast audience interest and ad revenue and some of that revenue may be cut further as companies like those in the direct to consumer market produce their own instead of advertising on other shows.

Ironically, almost all the companies seeking to carve out a piece of the podcasting territory emphasize “discovery” as one way to help surface more shows to the audience. While there are a few massive hits, most shows have audiences under 200 listeners, something that’s attributable to the outsized promotion of the biggest producers at the expense of the long tail of niche shows. While there are certainly problems with single sources like iTunes, none of them are solved in a situation where 10 different services all have completely different show lineups because of exclusive deals and other restrictions.

The first couple waves of podcast popularity were fueled in large part by the fact you could listen to whatever show you wanted on whatever platform you preferred. Not only could you choose from iTunes, TuneIn and others but you could listen directly on a show’s website. Google Reader, before it was unceremoniously shut down, even supported podcast listening, which could be done right within the feed.

Efforts to become the “Netflix of podcasts” are about gaining control over the industry and format, as podcast/RSS/blogging pioneer Dave Winer points out. That’s the opposite of what’s good for the future of the format, which will become a collection of conflicting interests and proprietary approaches, as a whole or the audience.

Content Marketing Insights: Developing a Program Framework – Creating a Mission Statement

A content marketing program is more complex than some would have you believe. This is one in a series of posts laying out some best practices and essential steps to take when developing or evaluating a program for you or your organization.

Corporate mission statements really came into vogue in the last 40 years or so as companies sought to set themselves apart and define what the image they wanted to present to the public really was. You read a lot of these and you see repeated use of phrases like “be the best in class” or “become the market leader” in a way that’s related to their industry.

The actual business value of such mission statements has always seemed a tad questionable to me. They always appeared to be more about a board of directors feeling like they’ve contributed or a consultant preying on fears of being left behind than anything that will matter to the public.

That their primary purpose is as in-house positioning is actually a big reason they play a large role in the development of a content marketing program.

When writing your program’s mission statement, the question that needs to be asked is this:

What is it we want our message to be?

It’s a bit more nuanced than that, of course, But if you can’t answer that question right off the bat, the program is in trouble from the outset.

As you begin putting together the structure and purpose of the program, the mission statement begins to focus the defining principles laid out previously. As with any other mission statement, one for a content marketing program should hit the following points:

  • What are you doing?
  • How are you doing it?
  • Why are you doing it?

Here’s a quick, generic example.

Be a valuable source of company and industry news through regular publishing of relevant, engaging updates on important topics to raise the company’s standing among buyers, customers and media.

Your own will be specific to what you want to accomplish and may include mentions of direct sales or other metrics, but be careful to not set goals that are too specific in this mission statement. Those goals will be outlined later on, after tactics and strategies have also been provided.

Right now you’re setting the vision for the program more than anything.

The purpose of the mission statement at this stage is mostly about gaining internal approval. This is you selling the purpose of the program to higher-ups, as well as giving everyone involved something to rally around. So it should be aspirational yet achievable, with a bit of hyperbole built in so everyone feels they’re signing off on something visionary or groundbreaking.

There are some who feel you should include mentions of target audiences, sales funnels and other details in the mission statement, but those will only get you into trouble later on. Target audiences change, sales funnels are altered based on user experiences and testing. The mission statement should, with some caveats, be evergreen and as applicable two years from now as it is today. Like other elements of the program it should be revisited from time to time to make sure it’s still relevant, but it shouldn’t be so fungible that any change in tactics is going to necessitate revisions.

Again, this is a big part of receiving buy-in on the program being developed, so any change to what’s here will impact how those you report to view what you’re doing and how much they support it. If you are constantly changing the mission statement because you made it too specific, those who have signed off on it may be confused or irritated when what they see now doesn’t match what they had previously agreed to.

Create your mission statement with tomorrow in mind and you’ll be on solid footing as you continue developing the content marketing program.

Music As Productivity Help or Hinderance

Walk through an office and you might see some people sitting at the desks working while they have headphones of some kind in or on their ears. Some companies don’t allow this kind of activity, restricting employees from listening to music or anything else, or they might have something playing over speakers in the office for everyone to listen to. Different workplaces will have different rules for different reasons.

The science behind those policies as well as people’s desire to do so varies. Some studies say listening to music hampers creativity while others say it enhances productivity. Still others say it may feel like music is helping you be more productive, but it’s actually an illusion because you’re just in a better mood.

As with most things, the reality of the situation varies greatly from one person to another.

The structure of music is calming to otherwise overactive brains, it fires synapses that inspire creativity and otherwise helps keeps our attention where it should be, which is on the work at hand. That’s largely because listening to music releases dopamine, which is short supply for some people. It’s almost as effective as medication for people with ADHD and so may help them be more genuinely productive because it helps them focus.

For other people music will be a distraction and hinder their work. A writer friend of mine has said he can’t have anything with lyrics on while he’s writing since the words literally get in the way. I’m different and find having music on while writing to be a great help.

The only reason this is an issue for employers is that having a central office is still the default situation and they need to consider the environment being created for everyone, not a subset of workers. Office policies are often written to reflect the attitude of executives and owners, so if they have a problem with someone doing their work with headphones in then no one will be allowed to do so.

It’s an area where more flexibility – or at least the recognition that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to something as individualistic as listening to music – would be good for everyone. There are so many different conclusions about the impact music has on productivity and creativity because the responses one group of 100 people has may be different than the responses you get from another group of 100 people.

As with most things, the one rule should be that as long as someone’s preference doesn’t interfere with that of their coworkers it should be fine. Listening to music can be allowed so long as headphones are in and the volume isn’t so high that the next person over can hear and be distracted by it. Someone who doesn’t like music being played shouldn’t be able to deny others the ability to do so if it helps them.

That’s the same standard most workplace behavior should be judged by. Everyone has their own methods of enhancing their productivity, so workplaces should practice a “stay out of people’s way” approach, allowing individuals to do what works for them, including choosing to listen to music while at work or choosing not to.

Selling Captain Marvel

My latest post at The Hollywood Reporter is a recap of the campaign for Captain Marvel.

Before the future is written, though, Captain Marvel takes a trip to the past. The story is set in the mid-1990s, as Carol Danvers (Larson) returns to Earth after spending years in outer space becoming a warrior in the powerful Kree Empire. She has no real memory of her life before joining the Kree, but is home because the planet now stands in the middle of that race’s ongoing war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. Helping her is a pre-SHIELD Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) encountering the first of what will be many super powered beings in his career.

via How ‘Captain Marvel’ Marketing Introduces Carol Danvers | Hollywood Reporter