Irene was the real deal

August 30th, 2011

At this time 43 deaths have been attributed to Irene. Almost 3 million people are still without power. Whole villages have reportedly been submerged, roads and bridges swept away by floods caused by pounding rain.

Yet, some insist that Irene was over hyped.

They’re wrong.

Pictures of the San Diego Convention Center

August 15th, 2011

I visited the San Diego Convention Center a couple of weeks ago and was quite impressed by it. It’s located just a frew minutes’ cab ride from the San Diego International Airport, bookended by two hotels – Hilton to the south and Marriott to the north – and it runs parallell to the San Diego Bay to the west and Harbor Drive and the transit train to the east. The visitor-friendly Gaslamp Quarter with its myriad of bars, cafes and restaurants is literally across the street and Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, is just a few walkable blocks away, as is aircraft carrier museum USS Midway.

It is, quite simply, a great place to hold a convention or conference. Below are a dozen pictures from the convention center and its immediate surroundings.

The San Diego Convention Center seen from the marina.

The Harbor Drive side of the San Diego Convention Center.

An escalator inside the San Diego Convention Center

San Diego Convention Center first-floor hallway next to Harbor Drive. Meeting rooms to the left.

View of the San Diego Bay side of the San Diego Convention Center. Photo taken from lawn between the convention center and Hotel Hilton.

San Diego Convention Center photographed from the Embarcado marina North Park.

The San Diego Convention Center main entrance.

The San Diego Convention Center seen from the transit railway side (Harbor Drive)

The second floor Sails Pavilion room (90,000 square feet).

The San Diego Convention Center's magnificent terrace facing the San Diego Bay (Hotel Marriott in the background).

First-floor hallway with entrances to meeting rooms at the San Diego Convention Center.

The Hilton is just steps south of the San Diego Convention Center but is not attached to it.

The Hotel Marriott has two towering buildings immediately north of the San Diego Convention Center

Twitter, soon as worthless as MySpace?

July 18th, 2011

Jeremy Schoemaker – perhaps better know as ShoeMoney, his online moniker – wrote in a blog post July 13 that “Twitter will suffer a similar fate as MySpace.”

It’s somewhat hard to tell from Schoemaker’s post what exactly MySpace’s fate is in his eyes, but in his own words:

MySpace’s financial situation is much worse. A couple years ago the company was valued at over 20 billion dollars. Now its valuation is around 30 million dollars [it sold for $35 million plus a small minority stake].

While the traffic as a whole has declined on MySpace dramatically the valuation has dropped at more then 20x the rate.
I believe MySpaces biggest reason for such a huge drop in revenue is because of the demographic switch of their users. As people who can afford to purchase items that companies are advertising are leaving, the people coming in are giving advertisers next to zero return on their investments.

I can’t recall any time when MySpace was perceived as a magnet for people “who can afford to purchase items.” It was always an ugly juvenile cesspool that clearly blinded media executives with a dramatic user growth story. Squeezing money out of the site’s low-end users is the kind of job that sleazy affiliate marketers excel at when they can operate in virtually unregulated territory. It certainly didn’t hurt their chances that Google signed a 3.5-year, $900 million ad-and-search deal with News Corp., a deal that gave Google a powerful incentive to let marketers run wild on the site.

The specific similarity between Twitter and MySpace that Schoemaker sees is that quality users are jumping ship.

The real value of Twitter always came from people with great opinions instantly chiming in. The quality of “Real Users” is nil compared to what it was a year ago.

I’ve been on Twitter since the end of 2008 and I can’t say I’ve seen much of a change in the quality of “real users,*” but then again I follow a massive 324 people while the more discriminating Schoemaker has found only 52 people worth following. Granted, he has 108,000 followers (I have 350 – holla bots!), who, according to his web site make up almost half of his “daily active readers.” His Twitter audience enables him to bring in $400 a week in advertising on that site, compared to the “over a hundred thousand dollars from advertisers paying [Schoemaker] to do tweets in the last couple years.” 7 months ago it was apparently $600 a week.

The “last couple of years” is an interesting period. In the summer of 2009 Schoemaker was promoting not only advertising on Twitter, but also advertising on the “worthless” MySpace. Heck, he promoted advertising on MySpace less than a year ago but he doesn’t appear to promote it presently. Which makes me wonder when MySpace became worthless to him?

What Twitter is worth to its investors and users is a fairly open question. It strikes me as a pretty poor medium for direct response, in part because messaging is so brief, visually indistinguishable and embedded in an endless stream of other messages. It’s probably a good deal better for customer relationship management (including customer service), public relations and deals or deal hunting. What the value of all that nets out to for Twitter’s owners and for people like Schoemaker is something I neither know nor particularly care about. I think Twitter is a quite useful service that is vulnerable to the short attention span of web users. Twitter could well end up dying on its boots without doing really anything wrong.

By the way, the $20 billion valuation is a BS number based on analysis of the most speculative kind.

*A good many users can probably be labeled as opportunistic users – including many politicians and celebrities – who will move on to the next hot thing at the drop of a hat.

A couple of disclosures:

I’ve met Schoemaker – briefly – a couple of times through a previous job. His personal story is a Horatio Alger-esque rags-to-riches one that I certainly do amdire. He is also a very skilled marketer and monetizer and you should always keep that in mind when you take in his words. If you don’t know much about Schoemaker I suggest you read Aaron Wall’s interview with him.

I used one of the MySpace advertising coupons that Schoemaker promoted in 2009. It worked as advertised.

I occasionally, maybe once or twice a year, run a miniscule ad campaign on MySpace/MyAds, mostly just to see what gives. I have not done it on Twitter and I am not planning on doing it either.

WEEI learns a lesson. Maybe even two. Or none at all.

July 17th, 2011

Wrote Kirk Minihane, WEEI.com columnist, on April 4, 2011:

Unless there is a radio simulcast that I’m not aware of — are the Bruins even on the radio?

The Boston Globe’s sports media columnist Chad Finn’s reporting on the 2011 spring ratings should help Minihan find his way around the dial:

“We’ve seen steady growth outside of Bruins season and Patriots season,’’ said Mike Thomas, program director at The Sports Hub (98.5 FM), which airs game broadcasts for both teams. “All the shows have been moving in the right direction and have done a great job of bonding with the fans of Boston. So I think it goes well beyond the play-by-play rights that we have. But there is no doubt that the Bruins and the buzz that everyone felt in this city, with it being so long since they had won the Stanley Cup, it took everything to such an extreme level.’’

Jason Wolfe, Thomas’s counterpart at WEEI, said it’s not particularly a surprise that The Sports Hub caught the wave of the Bruins’ success, since his station is rather familiar with the benefits of broadcasting a championship team’s games.

“It’s happened to us with the Red Sox [in 2004 and ’07] and the Celtics in 2008 and last year,’’ said Wolfe. “Our ratings have stayed steadily high, but there’s no doubt they reaped the benefits of broadcasting their games and that association with a championship team.’’

Emphasis added. It kind of sucks when your boundless wit is shredded by the boss, doesn’t it?

Now that WEEI staff know where they can find Boston Bruins radiocasts they may also be able to learn that they are no longer “THE dominant station with Men in the Boston market,” as the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam gently reminds her readers that the station declared last yearwhen it was first overtaken by the The Sports Hub (but maybe WEEI really is dominant with this ‘Men’ character).

Here’s a quote from the memo that I find particularly interesting:

Perhaps all of this is merely CBS’s way to draw attention away from the demise of WBZ-AM. Has anybody else noticed that this once formidable station now ranks out of the top 10 in both Men and Adults 25-54 in the market?

Let’s rephrase that to: “Your non-sports station has cooties!”

WEEI’s spin is as puny as its programming response to 98.5 The Sports Hub.

School may be out, but Back-To-School is already in

July 14th, 2011

Retailers are already pushing the Back-to-School shopping season, even though kids have barely gotten out of school for summer. There are simple reasons for why Back-to-School promotions are seemingly everywhere. Summer is a slow season for most retailers to begin with and back-to-school pretty much the only reason consumers to turn their wallet upside down and shake it hard until the holidays kick-off with Black Friday. On top of that, most retailers are mired in a brutal slump that started in 2007 and really kicked into full gear in September 2008. Getting people to spend these days take a lot ohard work, a lot of marketing, a lot of promotions and a lot of deals, specials, discounts, coupons, price cuts and other margin-denting offers.

Since there really isn’t anything else to build a sales-driving campaign around this time of the year retailers have prolonged the back-to-school shoping season by moving up its start date. Competition is fierce and even exhausting. Retail marketers have to carefully weigh how to spend their rather limited budgets. Sit on the advertising money for too long and you’ll lose mind share. Spend it too soon and you’ll fizzle before consumers really start buying.

USA Today has a list of what some retailers are doing and when in order to roll out the back-to-school season. Time Magazine’s Moneyland blog looks at why retailers are pushing back-to-school. The Boston Globe has a blog entry on a Back-to-School savings card that office-supplies super store Staples is peddling. The United States Census Bureau reported a couple of weeks ago that the number of companies with paid employees fell by almost 300,000 over the past two years, a development that’s put additional strain on retail businesses.

There is also a quite practical reason for why the back-to-school season is so drawn out: School starts at different times in different parts of the country.

98.5 The Sports Hub kicks the crap out of WEEI

July 13th, 2011

The 2011 spring ratings book is nothing short of a disaster for WEEI, the station that only two years ago ruled the sports-talk roost in Boston. Reports the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn on Boston.com:

…98.5 The Sports Hub, the Bruins’ flagship station since launching in August 2009…, finished first in the market among the all-important men 25-54 demographic, earning an 8.8 share… WEEI-AM was tied for sixth (5.1). With the share in the Boston market for its Providence-based FM station included, WEEI moves up to fourth (5.6).

Finn notes that 98.5 handily beats WEEI among men 25-54 during the morning drive, midday, afternoon drive and evening shows.

I don’t think the reasons why 98.5 The Sports Hub beats WEEI have changed much over the past two years. It probably didn’t help WEEI any that the spring book coincided with the Boston Bruins captivating quest for the Stanley Cup. WEEI hosts have long had a hostile or dismissive attitude towards the Bruins and callers who wanted to talk about the team were openly laughed at by hosts.

WEEI thought they were a monopoly because they were so great, but it’s turned that they appeared great because they were in effect a local-market sports-talk monopoly.

Tomorrow is probably going to be more fun for 98.5 ad salesmen than for their colleagues at WEEI.

Heroes of June, but now it’s July

July 13th, 2011

I saw this down at the playground the other day:

Boston Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup hat hanging from a fence in a Boston suburb playground.

Industry thought leader vs. local service leader

June 24th, 2011

One of the online marketing recommendations dispensed at the Google AdWords seminar I criticized in a previous post was for small business owners to blog in order to become thought leaders in their respective industries. The presenter also urged attendants to stay away from social media where he predicted they would end up having conversations with themselves.

It requires severe selection bias to think it a good idea that small-business owners should aim to become thought leaders. Writing is a time-consuming undertaking and blogging even more so. To become an industry thought leader requires not only all of that but also a lot of work to become perceived as – industry thought leader. Yes, a good deal of marketing and self promotion are required to reach that pinnacle.

There is probably no shortage of small-business owners who would like to be industry thought leaders, just like there is no shortage of people who would like to become professional basketball players or movie stars. Aiming to become one, however, is not a particularly realistic business plan.

A more mundane but also more profitable path to take is strive to become what one might call a local service leader, that one person who people in one geographic area are most likely to recommend to their friends and neighbors. Social media, in particular FaceBook – where seemingly every mom in America hang out all day long – is probably a better way to go than an ambitious, frequently updated blog that saps its writer of time and energy.

There is another reason for small-business owners to secure accounts on leading social media sites: They are likely to rank high in seach engines for searches for the business. This way a small-business owner can push review-site listings lower and hopefully out of sight for most searchers. Among the sites small business owners should get an account and put up some basic information: Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Blogger/BlogSpot and Tumblr.

Be wary of Google AdWords’ push in Massachusetts

June 20th, 2011

About a month ago I received an email from Google AdWords with the following message:

Google seminars coming to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut

Google invites you to some interactive seminars for your local businesses
community. Our certified trainers will show you how Google tools can help
you reach more customers, understand what customers are searching for, and
operate more efficiently.

In the workshops our trainers will cover online marketing best practices,
including how to:

– Reach the right audience using Google AdWords and boost your ad
performance by choosing the right keywords and writing compelling ads
– Claim your business on Google Maps and create a Google Place Page
– Use Google Analytics to track online traffic and optimize your website

These seminars are ideal for customers who are new to online advertising as
well as existing AdWords customers who want to get more results from their
online advertising investment.

[Date time and locations removed]

Registration is required to attend. Space is limited. First come, first
serve.

AdWords is Google’s Pay-Per-Click advertising program. You can see AdWords ads on the Google search results pages as well as third-party publishers web sites. From a business stand point, AdWords is Google. It is AdWords that enables Google to generously compensate its employees, and to almost willy-nilly buy companies and launch new products and services. In spite of dominating the market AdWords is not without its challenges. One is click fraud. Another is a reputedlyvery high churn rate, especially among smaller advertisers. I assumed that the seminars advertised in the email were part of a campaign to increase retention rate among new new AdWords advertisers.

I’ve been using AdWords on and off for many years, mostly just to test this that or the other thing, but also for cold-blooded no-nonsense customer acquisition. I am, however, not an AdWords power user and since the tool is constantly evolving I figured it would be a good idea to attend one of the seminars and learn something new about the program or mabe just develop a new way to approach it tactically and strategically. So I signed up.

Registration cost $75 which wasn’t exactly obvious from the sales pitch email, but that didn’t particularly bother me. After all, the sales funnel has to start somewhere. The registration fee didn’t seem unreasonable either. Besides covering the cost of the event it seemed like a good way to secure some level of committment from the attendees and thereby dent the turnover rate a little.

After registration had been completed it turned out that “our certified trainers” – ie Google’s – turned out to be from a company other than Google. Call it “the royal they.”

The seminar turned out to be a bit of a bust, and it deviated so much from the pitch that I am tempted to use words like “fraudulent” and “deceptive” to describe the whole affair but that’s probably too strong. Crossed wires and honest misunderstanding strike me as more accurate.

The presentation deck carried the headline “Online Marketing 101,” a level which is hardly “ideal for existing AdWords customers who want to get more results from their
online advertising investment” (however, as OM 101 it wasn’t bad at all and although I disagree with some of its recommendation I credit it for stressing the importance of email as part of the online marketing mix. The presenter also stated that it seems that companies that use AdWords do better in organic search listings than those that don’t, a statement that is, well, interesting for coming from one of “our certified trainers.” But I learned squat about AdWords).

Yesterday I received the following email from Google AdWords:

Google invites you to two interactive seminars for Massachusetts’ local business community. Our certified trainers will show you how Google tools can help you reach more customers, understand what customers are searching for, and operate more efficiently.

In our workshops our trainers will cover online marketing best practices, including how to:

Reach the right audience using Google AdWords and boost your ad performance by choosing the right keywords and writing compelling ads
Claim your business on Google Maps and create a Google Place Page
Use Google Analytics to track online traffic and optimize your website
These seminars are ideal for customers who are new to online advertising as well as existing AdWords customers who want to get more results from their online advertising investment.

[Date time and locations removed]

Registration is required to attend. Space is limited. First come, first serve. There is a fee to attend these events.

Fool me once…

Google AdWords is flailing. It appears anxious to both increase sign-up rates and lower retention rates. Certified third-party trainers are one of the methods the company is using to get there, but quality assurance is lacking. Until that changes small business owners in Massachusetts should consider seeking online-advertising advice elsewhere.

Ranking Boston’s championships 2002-2011

June 17th, 2011

When Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup by defeating the Canucks (and indirectly laying waste to Vancouver) they added the seventh major-league championship that the city’s four pro sports teams have won since 2002.

Here’s how I rank them in order of importance, starting from the bottom

7) Boston Celtics 2008 championship. It would have been 8th on my list had the Patriots not lost the Super Bowl at the end of the 2007 season. Basketball does nothing for me and I can’t remember anything at all about the Celtics run to victory other than that a person died at the hands of Boston police while celebrating. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy going to Celtics games.

6) Boston Red Sox win the 2007 World Series. It was fun. One last hurrah before the metaphorical house that steroids built came crashing down on the team with one of the league’s biggest payrolls.

5) New England Patriots win their second straight Super Bowl by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots concluded the most dominant phase of their dynasty. Back-to-back 14-2 seasons, back to back Super Bowl victories. So dominant were the Patriots that anything other than a repeat would have been an incredible letdown. That really took quite a bit of the enjoyment and thrill out of it.

4) Boston Bruins win the 2011 Stanley Cup. The Bruins, whose work ethic impressed me a good deal more than their skill during the regular season, strung together two months of unforgettable playoff drama (against Montreal, Tampa and Vancouver) and revenge (sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers). The Bruins triumph may turn out to mark the end of Boston’s spectacular run. The Celtics are fading away, the Red Sox remain competitive but lack that championship caliber edge they had until recently and the Patriots have completely lost their way.

3) New England Patriots win their second Super Bowl in three years. After a disappointing 2002 season that left out of the playoffs the Patriots came roaring back. A stumbling 2-2 start gave way to 15 straight victories, culminating in a highly entertaining Super Bowl that was part defensive stalemate and part Wild West shootout.

2) Boston Red Sox win the 2004 World Series. I think most fans in New England, and certainly in eastern Massachusetts, would put this at number one, but I disagree. While the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 they had a very strong team heading into the 2004 season. The heartbreak of 2003 – The Grady Little Mistake on the Mound where the team’s overmatched manager failed to pull a clearly tiring Pedro Martinez in the seventh game of the ACLS – had fans thirsting for payback. Things really got going when catcher Jason Varitek fed Antonio Rodriguez a mouthfull of leather glove, a move that set off a bench clearing brawl and a stunning regular-season come-from-behind victory. The real highlight of the 2004 playoffs was not the World Series victory – which had almost become a foregone conclusion – but the highly improbable seven-game ALCS series against the Yankees – the one where the Sox were down three games before Dave Roberts made the perhaps biggest steal in baseball history and got the biggest comeback moving. The biggest low-light also followed the series against the Yankees when a Boston police officer shot a female student in the head with a pepperball gun during the chaotic celebrations after the game.

1) New England Patriots win the Super Bowl! Boston was Loserville before Adam Vinatieri’s Greatest Toe On Turf edged out St. Louis Rams’ Greatest Show On Turf. The Patriots were no longer a laughingstock the way they had been before the Kraft family bought the team in 1994, but they certainly didn’t merit consideration as a Super Bowl contender. If you’re a Boston sports fan born in 1985 you had had an entirely different experience by the time you turned 15 than one born in 1996 would have had by 2011. If you’re 15 today pretty much all you know is that Boston teams win championships more or less all the time. It was the Patriots who started that run. Just months after the devastating Arab-Muslim 9/11 terror attacks – two of which were launched from Boston’s Logan airport – Robert Kraft could announce that we’re all patriots and the Patriots were the champions of the world. It was a wild end to a crazy season with twists-and-turns (like starting QB Drew Bledsoe getting knocked out in the second game of the season) and absurd luck (remember the non-fumble on the road against the Buffalo Bills?). The game winning drive in the dying seconds of the game was a stretch of championship-game winning drama yet to be rivalled. To top it off, the very last game in the old Foxboro Stadium turned out to be the Snow Bowl in which the infamous Tuck Rule helped the Patriots beat the Oakland Raiders in the divisional playoff round.