Archive for Huffington Post

The “Gray Lady” Reinvents Itself in the Digital Era as Readers Leave

The New York times innovation studyThe “Gray Lady” is The New York Times, so-called because the type in the print version is so dense. That’s a moniker the newspaper no doubt wishes it could shed as its readership is eclipsed by online journals Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

Adding further insult, The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed regularly repackage the Times’s content and draw more traffic than the original stories in the Times. How? By promoting the heck out of their content on social media.

Behind on Social Media

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Are Bloggers Journalists When They’re Paid to Write Reviews and for Affiliate Links?

The brouhaha continued with the announcement that Michael Arrington, founder and editor of the influential TechCrunch blog, was stepping down to run to his newly formed venture capital company, according to an article in the New York Times, A Tech Blogger Who Leaps Over the Line. He will still be an unpaid blogger for the online publisher.

Initially, Mr. Arrington was going to play a dual role as editor and investor. Adding to the drama AOL, which bought TechCrunch for $30 million, has invested $20 million in the TechCrunch Fund. AOL also owns the Huffington Post, which calls itself “The Internet Newspaper.”

Conflict of Interest

"Michael Arrington"

Michael Arrington

Most journalists writing about Mr. Arrington and his dual rule say it’s a conflict of interest when the influential TechCrunch “could make or break a start-up” with its coverage, according to the Times article. Will it write only favorable stories about the companies it invests in?

This brings up the continuing debate: are bloggers really journalists? In 2005, the AP filed a story Blogger Joins White House Press Corps, about possibly the first blogger to cover daily press briefings. Wikipedia states the journalists are “expected to report in the most objective and unbiased way to serve the public good.” The AP and Wikipedia are two respected sources, so you could conclude that bloggers are journalists.

Writing for Money

But if bloggers are journalists should they be running affiliate ads on their sites? When someone visiting the blog clicks on the ad, the blogger gets paid directly. Of course, print and broadcast media survive on paid advertising. But the income doesn’t go directly to the writers. Reputable publications and broadcast outlets proudly trumpet the “Chinese Wall” separating editorial from advertising.

Another troubling practice is the bloggers who write reviews of products and don’t reveal they’ve received free product samples or even a payment. Some bloggers write about products for which they serve as affiliates without disclosing the relationship. This is deceitful.

The Lines Are Blurring

Perhaps it’s inevitable. Editorializing – inserting opinion – is creeping into mainstream media. The competition is fierce and juicing up an article to lure in more readers is a continuing temptation. I’m not knocking Fox News, but they’ve sort of set the standard for the new rules of journalism.

TechCrunch, in my view, is playing with fire if it allows Mr. Arrington any role at all in the blog that he founded. TechCrunch is widely viewed as the most influential blog covering technology. It could begin to lose influence, and readers, if it “leaps over the line” between legitimate news and hawking its own investments.

Postmortem: After this blog was written, The Wall Street Journal weighed in on this controversy in a story entitled A Business Model Based on Conflict of Interest.

Don’t Destroy a Brand; Leave Well Enough Alone

"Gap new logo"

Gap new logo

"Gap old logo"

Gap old logo

A big brouhaha developed this week about the new Gap logo.  For over 20 years the retail chain that gained fame for its jeans had a logo that was pretty simple – a blue square enclosing GAP in reverse Helvetica font.  But, oh boy, did the company get criticized for its new “hip” logo aimed at the millennial crowd.

Customers weighed in on Gap’s Facebook page with comments like, “Looks cheap! Does that mean your jeans will be cheap too?” “What people gave you such terrible advice?” and “This new ‘logo’ is terrible and amateurish.”  Ouch!

Why do companies tinker with what’s working?  Fast Company weighed in with a story, Gap on Disastrous New Logo: “We’re Open to Other Ideas” in which Bill Chandler, vice president of corporate communications for Gap, told FC, “We love the design, but we’re open to other ideas and we want to move forward with the best logo possible.” Sounds like backtracking to me.

GAP Turns to Crowdsourcing

GAP North America president, Marka Hansen, quickly dashed off a byliner in that arbiter of good taste, the Huffington Post, in which she states, “We chose this design as it’s more contemporary and current…now, given the passionate outpouring from customers that followed, we’ve decided to engage in the dialogue, take their feedback on board and work together as we move ahead and evolve to the next phase of Gap.”

Tossing aside the logo designed by a professional, the company is turning to “crowdsourcing.”  That’s when you tap into the ideas of the masses. Very often it’s tied in to a contest.  Just think, a logo designed by committee – a very, very large committee.  Individuals will be able to submit in their own designs in a contest hastily conceived by the company as damage control.

So, if the brightest minds in the design business couldn’t come up with an acceptable logo, why does the company think their customers (some of whom might actually have design experience) can do any better without the research and thought that no doubt went into the new design?

Advertisers and Agencies Get Bored

I come from an advertising/PR background.  You know the reason why companies change logos and advertising campaigns that are working just fine?  They get bored. It’s true.  I worked in agencies and agencies worked for me when I was head of marketing communications at a number of major companies.

One day a “creative,” the inside term for copywriters and art directors, says to the account director of Very Big Client.  “You know, that campaign is getting a little tired.  We’ve been kicking around some ideas for a new creative approach that we’d like to show the client.”  Before you know it, the ball is rolling down the hill and no one can stop it.

Or, the client’s advertising director is in a meeting and the company’s president says, “How long have we been running this campaign?  Aren’t people getting tired of it?”  That’s like shooting the starter’s gun at a race.  Off the ad director goes to the agency: “How come you guys aren’t coming up with any new ideas?”  Boom, everybody is scurrying around – don’t want to lose the account — and competing creative teams are assembled to come up with new designs and copy.

American Express:  “Don’t Leave Home Without It”

In one of the longest-running and most successful advertising campaigns in history, the actor Karl Malden was the pitchman for American Express for 25 years, ending each commercial with American Express:  Don’t Leave Home Without It.  This helped to build Amex’s reputation and brand as the premium card for travel and leisure.  After Malden’s departure, rotating celebrity spokespersons kept the campaign fresh for years.

There are other campaigns, too, that ran forever and no one got bored and the cash register kept ringing.  Among them were You’re In Good Hands With Allstate, Avis: We Try Harder, and Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin. I mention the last campaign because the fictional spokesman, George Whipple, was named for a real person who was the PR director for the company’s ad agency (I knew him).

My Advice for Gap

So getting back to Gap’s logo snafu.  I’d advise the company to slow down.  If you’re going to have a crowdsourcing contest, think it through carefully and understand the ramifications of opening up the corral and letting all the cattle in.  Don’t let the brand get trampled on.