Sunday, March 18, 2012

World Radio Day And How The US Can Learn From The Rest Of The World

I ran across a post on the PBS Mediashift Idea Lab blog that told me something that I did not know.  UNESCO, part of he United Nations, has declared February 13th to be World Radio Day.  On their website, here's what they say about radio:
The World Radio Day seeks raise awareness about the importance of radio, facilitate access to information through radio and enhance networking among broadcasters.
Radio has to be recognized as a low cost medium, specifically suited to reach remote communities and vulnerable people: the illiterate, the disabled, women, youth and the poor, while offering a platform to intervene in the public debate, irrespective of people’s educational level. Furthermore, radio has a strong and specific role in emergency communication and disaster relief. There is also a changing face to radio services which, in the present times of media convergence, are taking up new technological forms, such as broadband, mobiles and tablets.  
The World Radio Day website, as well as the Idea Lab blog, wax poetic about how radio is important to most of the Earth's inhabitants, but not in the way that American broadcasters have changed the medium in our country.  Consider this from Amy O'Donnell, who wrote the Idea Lab post:
In an era where every revolution has a hashtag, we must remind ourselves that community radio has been a forum for collective dialogue for more than 100 years. By a generous estimate, Twitter has 500 million users. Juxtapose this with the 6 billion active mobile subscriptions and 95 percent of people who have access to the radio.
Radio is particularly important for those who aren't online or able to get a newspaper delivered. Radio requires minimal electricity (a negligible amount with a windup or solar radio) and tuning in is free. Applications using SMS with radio -- two of the world's most used platforms -- is proving that mobile technology has the power to create new possibilities by transforming radio from a one-way broadcast to a two-way dialogue with listeners.

She goes on in the post to talk about how radio and SMS messaging has revolutionized communication and community building around the world, especially in the poorest parts of the planet.  She speaks about how radio should be decentralized, how important it is for local communities to have control over what their people hear. And she talks at great length about how important radio is to the people who use it. If you are like me and still have any affection for radio, the post is a must read, and you can reach it by the link at the beginning of this paragraph.

I am not here to judge what has happened to American radio, that's something a historian but will do in the future and many are doing now.  I still have a deep passion for radio, and while my days of working inside of a radio station may be over, I still believe that radio is a vital communications and entertainment medium for millions of Americans.

The facts are the facts. What is a vital communications link to people all over the world is a business that needs to have a 50% margin in America. What is the only lifeline to billions of people who need it the most and is sometimes the only way for them to communicate with the world outside their community is an experiment in computer automation, centralization, and uniformity in our country.

I know that many of the people who run radio companies in America love radio as much as I do. and I know that radio has become a business that has to deliver a profit. I hope these CEOs can take a few minutes away from looking at the stock charts and dealing with their VC people and can take a cue from World Radio Day and think of ways they can make their properties just as important and relevant to listeners in America as thousands of radio stations are to people around the world.

Radio still means something to a lot of people. Regular people, poor people, rich people, people who are striving just to stay alive. I find the concept of World Radio Day to be inspirational, to show how important a century-old technology still is and can continue to be in the new digital world that we live in.

This is a case where you can have the best of both worlds. You just have to think of how to balance the need for profit with the need for serving the public interest, convenience, and necessity. It can be done, and it would be amazing if some initiatives to make it happen were in place by the first World Radio Day on February 13.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

The Internet Never Closes, Why Does Your "Customer Service"?

I had another one of those "slap myself in the forehead" moments this morning, and it reminded me how important customer service is in the age of the always running, worldwide, time zone agnostic Internet.

All weekend long, I tried to upload songs to my (now I guess I call it) Google play music library in the cloud. I probably tried to do it ten times starting on Saturday and running until Monday morning, and had no success any time. I did all the normal troubleshooting and still no luck. For some reason, I was getting a message that the application was unable to connect to the server. Normally, that means a problem on the server side, but sometimes it could be a problem with my home network. Hence, I was a little concerned that I couldn't reach a service that I've never had problems reaching before.

On Monday morning I ran some troubleshooting and went to the Google help site, which is an adventure in itself. I finally found an option to have someone from Google call me to discuss my problem, which I will admit I had not seen before. I put my number in, and about 15 seconds later a very nice lady from Google was on my phone. When I explained to her what was going on, she replied with "oh yeah, there's some kind of a problem with the server. We've been having it all weekend and we know all about it."


I was a little taken aback by both the casual nature of her response and what she was saying to me. Google knew they had a problem all weekend but didn't let anybody know about it. I asked her if it was posted on a blog, a tweet, or somewhere in the application, and she said no because it was the weekend. I asked her when something might be posted to give us an update on the problem and she told me that it's Monday and people are trying to get their week started, so something may not be out until later today if the problem is still going on.


Maybe it's my training in broadcasting, where our business was always open or maybe it's just my understanding of the fact that the Google play service is always running, used around the world, and it's 9 AM somewhere at any time. Just because this issue happen on the weekend, it shouldn't be overlooked or not communicated to the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of users sitting at their computers wondering what's going wrong. Rather than not acknowledge that there's a problem, here are some things Google could have done had they decided to actually take this concept of an ever–operating Internet seriously.

  • They could have sent tweets out saying that there was a problem with the application and that they were aware of it.
  • Many Google products have blogs or other status update sites, and the issue could have been added to the site for this product.
  • With a minimal amount of coding, an announcement that there was a problem with the app could have been put into the app itself.
If you run a business that does almost anything on the Internet, it's important to remember that your business really truly never closes when it's online. Stunningly, Google seems to have forgotten that when they had this problem with Google play. 

You, as a business owner, can avoid the problem by having someone on staff on call and available to fix a big problem should something go wrong. It could be knowing that your brick and mortar business is going to be closed tomorrow because of snow, it could be that your e-commerce vendor is down, or it could be that you're doing some work on your website that you hadn't planned on and you need to put up a landing page

Whatever the reason, someone should be able to communicate to your visitors and customers that things are not as they should be and give a very rough estimate as to when they'll be okay again.

As we had into the mobile-based, highly personalized, on-demand world shaped by the Internet, it's important to remember that old concepts like business hours have to be redefined for a new age. If someone as big as Google hasn't figured that out, the small business that does will look like a trailblazer.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

This Post Should Be Read By Every Executive In The Radio Business

I've written before about how radio is on the fast track to irrelevance, and that the smart owners and execs in the radio industry have the power to stop that and save the business.  Media guru Mark Ramsey wrote about Pandora and how radio is freaking out about it but shouldn't on his blog yesterday.

Today, I found a blog post by Steve Parker, Jr. talking about what I think is the root problem for most radio companies and stations when it comes to their digital future or lack thereof.  Quite simply, they lack a digital strategy, even if they think they have one.  I've worked for companies whose long term digital strategy changed as often as I changed my socks.  That won't get you to the Promised Land in an era of mobile, personalized, on-demand communication and entertainment.  And the people who run most of the big radio groups just don't get it. 

Here's Mr. Parker's post in full, via Jack Myers Media Business Report's website

Lack of Digital Strategy & Accountability is Killing Brands - Steve Parker, Jr.-Levelwing

March 9, 2012
Steve Parker
Published: March 9, 2012 at 02:55 PM GMT
Last Updated: March 9, 2012 at 02:55 PM GMT

'Doing' is not strategic insight. Just because it is measurable does not mean it is accountable.

If you are reading this and don't own a smartphone, you might as well stop right now. You won't understand nor can you be helped at this point – the technology world has passed you by. To the rest of you who have an iPhone or another 'super' smartphone, such as a Droid or Blackberry, read on. Many of you are probably reading this from your mobile phone as we speak. In fact, I'm doubtful you could put it down for a day or even a few hours. We have all become heavily reliant on our mobile devices – and for great reason. Mobile phones don't just make calls anymore; they actually help us in our daily lives. In your personal life, you have bought this device so you could have the 'Power of the Best' – best technology, best experience, best of everything. So, why in your business life are you settling for something that only makes calls? Seriously, why have you settled for the basics, knowing very well there is something much better and much more powerful? In the business world, this mindset goes way beyond phones: using Google Analytics when you could be using Omniture or simply reporting on campaigns vs. uncovering true business intelligence.

Smartphones have apps for seemingly everything – simple tools we use nearly every day for things like travel, directions, games, photos and social experiences. We use our phones to talk, write, chat, video conference, listen to music, check blood pressure, buy products, sell products, check email, do our online banking…

In short, smartphones and apps are all around us and engrained in our daily lives. But there are some things an iPhone or Droid just can't do. Contrary to popular belief, 'there's an app for that' doesn't actually apply to everything.

Digital Strategy:
Sorry, there is not actually a digital strategy app. However, most businesses are treating digital as though there is some magical strategic app that will make it easy to grow a business. Facebook is not a strategy. Twitter is not a strategy. Search engine marketing is not a strategy. Most companies, from the Fortune 500 to the local dry cleaner, do not have a sound digital strategy. You could argue this, but you would be wrong. It's true many businesses are implementing digital activities and, in some cases, doing a lot and seeing success. However a solid, well-planned strategy is lacking in most every case. Executing upon paid search marketing campaigns, communicating via Twitter or delivering a set of viral videos online is not strategy. I will clarify that I do believe in strategy for each of those separate executional elements (solid planning, measurement and management process, if you will), but an overarching strategy is still of most significant importance.

Measurement & Accountability:
Sorry, no app here either. Most businesses in the digital world fail to achieve true measurement and accountability – it's arguably one of areas most wrought with error. Many companies simply choose not to hold their investments in digital accountable. Let me be clear: measuring and reporting on clicks, likes, fans, site traffic, sales, share of voice and ad rates on some nifty dashboard is not the same thing as holding your marketing investments accountable. Those metrics (and many others like them) provide your business with little more than false hope and misdirection. Measurement and accountability are not quite so convenient and easy to attain. True accountability takes dedication, hard-nosed planning and a keen focus on goals.

Why Do Businesses Fail at Strategy or Accountability?
The answer is an inability to answer a simple question: 'why?' Most businesses do not know WHY they are doing the things they are doing in digital. No, the answer is not as simple as 'to sell more stuff.' That's the derivative – it is always the derivative or the expected outcome. But WHY are businesses doing the things they are doing? Are they doing them because of economic indicators, weather patters, overall demand in the marketplace, to provide better service to customers, to refine customer channel strategy, to define patterns in the business that can be shared throughout the organizational hierarchy? WHY? An honest and clear digital strategy answers these questions, provides clarity and then allows the business to execute strategically against them. Just because a million dollars was spent and a study shows brand awareness increased by four points does not mean the campaign was a success. Similarly, just because that $1 million in media sold $2 million of products does not mean it was successful either. You must understand why that happened and how you can improve from there. 'Doing' is not strategic insight. Just because it is measurable does not mean it is accountable.

People Are the Only Apps of Strategy and Accountability
People are the real applications that drive a business. Driving strategy and critical thinking while holding a business accountable starts with people. People have the power to create, guide, teach, define, measure and hold accountable that which is meaningful. Without true strategy and accountability, most well intended efforts will fail. You and your team of co-workers, senior leadership and third-party partners should fight for the hard answers, to define strategic vision and hold accountable all tactics and people involved. It's not easy, but it is right.

I've read that Steve Jobs didn't believe in the whole concept of apps initially. Good thing he got on board, though. They have helped to transform Apple and the ways we interact with our devices. However, one thing I am certain of is that he did not rely on an app to plan his business nor let something that is measured define accountability. Steve Jobs understood the complexity of strategy, held the business accountable and delivered well against that strategy and accountability plan. Sometimes our apps need updating – and, frankly, we are those apps.

Steve Parker, Jr. is a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Levelwing, a digital advertising agency that provides data-driven marketing solutions. Steve can be reached at Follow me on Twitter at @sparkerjr.
This advice applies to almost any brand, but it is particularly relevant to radio, because radio can choose to embrace the future or continue, in most cases, to not acknowledge it.  Or to think they've got their "digital strategy" under control and in reality be far behind the rest of the Digital Universe because they rely on second tier vendors and second tier "Digital Gurus" inside their organizations. 

Don't get me wrong, I WANT radio to win the Digital battle.  But how many radio companies started working Wednesday afternoon to make sure their station or group iPad app would look right on the new Retina display?  For that matter, how many radio companies even HAVE iPad apps?
What was once the digital equivalent of Thomas The Tank Engine is quickly becoming a Bullet Train, and radio has to get on board, be able to react instantly to changes in technology and user behavior, and do whatever it takes to stay relevant in a Pandora world.  I know some groups and stations can do this.  I just wish the ones that can't or won't would get on board the train before it runs them over.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mediaite Botches Facts, Makes Carbonbite Look Less Lame

The web site Mediaite ran a story Sunday morning about online backup company Carbonite and their pulling ads from Rush Limbaugh's show after Limbaugh's remarks about Sandra Fluke.  This post isn't about the Limbaugh/Fluke issue, it's about the massive inaccuracies in the Mediaite story.

Here is what was posted on Mediaite Sunday morning:

Even After Apology, Web Company Still Withdrawing Ads From Limbaugh Show

Rush Limbaugh finally issued an apology for his remarks calling Georgetown student Sandra Flukea “slut” in the midst of a national conversation on birth control. Before his apology, several companies announced they would be pulling their ads from the Limbaugh program because they do not want to be associated with the radio host.
However, even after Limbaugh’s apology, at least one company is not simply accepting it and moving on. Carbonite, an online backup service, decided to pull advertising several days ago, and CEO David Friend is not backing down from that position even after Limbaugh’s apology last night.
No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.
Below is the comment I posted in their comments section with some more relevant information.
Your story has factual errors in regards to Carbonite and their pulling their spots from Limbaugh's show. Shame on you.
Might be prudent to check your timeline on this story, and the Twitter timeline on Carbonite.  They took their sweet time in pulling their ads, may have been the last major advertiser to bail, and tweeted that they were still evaluating their position as recently as Saturday afternoon.  They'e sanitized their Twitter stream, but THIS was posted on their blog the afternoon of March 2nd:
Over the past two days we have received a tremendous amount of feedback on Rush Limbaugh’s recent comments.  I too am offended and very concerned about his comments.  Limbaugh’s remarks have us rethinking our future use of talk radio.  We use more than 40 talk show hosts to help get the Carbonite message out to the public.  The nature of talk radio is that from time to time listeners are offended by a host and ask that we pull our advertising. This goes for conservatives like Limbaugh and progressives like Stephanie Miller and Ed Shultz. We even get customers who demand that we pull the plug on NPR.   As an advertiser, we do not have control over a show’s editorial content or what they say on air. Carbonite does not endorse the opinions of the shows or their hosts. However, the outcry over Limbaugh is the worst we’ve ever seen. I have scheduled a face-to-face meeting next week with Limbaugh during which I will impress upon him that his comments were offensive to many of our customers and employees alike.  Please know your voice has been heard and that we are taking this matter very seriously.  
Only on the evening of Saturday, March 3rd did they announce that they had come to their senses and pulled their ads, the LAST major advertiser to do so.
UPDATEA Statement from David Friend, CEO of Carbonite as of 6:45pm ET, March 3:“No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show. We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse.”
An intern could have found this information and helped write an accurate story. This is far below Mediaite's standards of accuracy.
It's not my place to be a media critic, I leave that to people like Howard Kurtz and Robert Feder among others.  However, as someone who was one of the first radio programmers to carry Rush Limbaugh's show and who still does work with both broadcast and online clients, I have to call Dan Abrams and Mediaite out for letting such blatant inaccuracy hit the web.  They made Carbonite look far better than they deserved to as a company and brought the reliability of their own reporting into question. 

UPDATE:  I've seen similar stories on sites like Huffington Post, so I'm guessing Carbonite hired a good crisis management person to put their spin out to these websites knowing nobody there would actually confirm the information.  Again reinforcing my mantra that you can't always believe what you read online.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Rare Video Cameo By Mark Edwards

First of all, let's get the legal mumbo jumbo out of the way.  I did not receive any compensation for appearing in this video, writing this post, or endorsing the company involved in the project.  So take THAT, Federal Trade Commission.

One of the most important things in establishing a presence on the Internet is to have a dependable, reliable web hosting service. The company you choose is your lifeline to the Internet, and they have to provide hosting, keep your domain registration straight, and make sure that you're not missing any opportunities to promote your business on the web.

For a long time, I was a customer of Their prices were fair, their service was good, and they never messed me over. However, they made the critical error of supporting Internet censorship legislation and I could no longer do business with them in good conscience. I asked my friends and Twitter followers who provided good hosting and domain services, and heard about a company called After a little investigation, I moved all of my websites to and have since advised my clients to do business with them as well.

This company provides excellent customer service, comes up with great solutions to my silly problems, and has a great sense of humor. You can see the latter in this video that they produced over the last couple of weeks. They were looking for people to be a part of it, and were kind enough to ask me to join the fun, but you have to look fast to see my appearances. I'll give you a hint, I'm wearing the shirt of my heroes.

No, that is not me in the picture above.

The video is a cute diversion, the work of some people who are really bright about the Internet and know how to have fun at the same time, and comes from a company that I highly recommend if you are looking for any kind of Web services. Just to be clear, read the first paragraph of this post and you'll see that I got nothing for saying that. Nothing. Nada.

If you are so inclined, check out's blog as they are running a contest in connection with this video. Clearly I have no chance of winning it, but you might and it could be worth entering. If nothing else, you can learn a little bit more about this great little company in Denver and the high quality work that they do for Mark Edwards Worldwide, our clients, and people around the country..
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