“Disrupted” Author Gives Advice on iGen Marketing

My last post was a review of Disrupted, which I  like a lot. So does my president. He told his cabinet members to read it. At a recent conference of college presidents, he recommended it to his colleagues.

I’ve recommended to everyone in the business.
I sought out author Stefan Pollack to do a Huffington Post piece about it. You can check out the full article there or just cut to our question/answer session below. Stefan kindly indulged me last week while he was on vacation.

Five questions about his findings and the future of marketing/advertising.
1. Why have you labeled people born after 1994 the “iGen generation?
Until now, most circles have labeled this generation Z, but based upon my observations there is enough of a generation gap between Y and this generation, that they needed a proper title. iGen describes quite a bit in just a few letters: they are inherently mobile, they value individuality, they are unique compared to the working generations of Y, Z and Boomers. The name also implicitly nods to Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which, among other forces, helped instigate the great communications disruption of the last decade, empowering this generation to lead brands into a consumer-controlled environment.
2. How large is the disruption created by this new consumer generation?
To be clear, while iGen has certainly created a disruption in the marketing world, the reality is they are natives of a post-disrupted environment. They don’t know a world apart from this intuitively mobile and consumer-driven one in which we currently live. iGen grew up knowing they have the entirety of human knowledge on small devices in their pockets. The consequences are staggering. Never before could a generation completely and totally omit a brand from their consumer decision-making process—they can find out anything and everything without consuming one iota of traditional media or brand-controlled messaging. This is probably the largest disruption our industry has ever witnessed.
3. What do companies and colleges need to do to communicate with these consumers?
The most important thing brands can do is listen. Identify the target audience and listen to them, learn their behaviors, their wants and needs, and deduce how a brand or message can coexist or nurture that lifestyle—then a brand or message will be relevant to iGen. Additionally, companies can identify influencers that iGen already listens to and capture their attention with a message, however they will concede control of the message once the influencer becomes an advocate.
4. What do we need to keep them?
Simple: be transparent, authentic, and honest. iGen and digital natives are the bloodhounds of consumers—they can spot disingenuous marketing long before it reaches them. However, once a brand or idea is embraced by iGen, they become fearless advocates and behave as influencers in their vast networks.
5. What will advertising and marketing look like in five years?
At the velocity of current trends, advertising and marketing will need to adapt to correct for the massive ad-avoidance rates. Now that people are mobile, their attention is moving from TV and print to their devices. Mobile marketing will continue to be a leading force in the industry, but it will need to be targeted—both demographically and geographically. Specific niches, such as video and music streaming, augmented reality, and location-based promotions, have tremendous potential for success. iGen is not adverse to marketing or advertising as long as it is relevant and authentic. The days of sandblasting a controlled message and hoping that enough of it sticks are over. Marketers must be accurate with their analysis of target audiences and use only tools that appeal to them.

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Fox Interview Will Flourish in the Classroom

Lauren Green’s interview with Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth will live forever in college courses in both a positive and negative way.
The negative, of course, is how to begin an agenda-laden interview and then awkwardly and totally lose control.
I’ve been a PR director in higher education for 35 years. I’ve known professors of every type. Some of my best friends are scholars. Most of them have Ph.Ds. Some are cool and some are social misfits.
I’ve also dealt with journalists of all ages, types and backgrounds. And I started my career as a journalist.
So let’s begin with the fact that Green’s question about why a Muslim would want to write a book about Jesus is a fair one. “Why” is always a first question. On a recent Fresh Air episode Terry Gross asked the same question but she allowed Aslan to answer. He explained that he grew up a Muslim, turned to Christianity, then returned to the Muslim faith. Gross’ question and Aslan’s answer set the tone for a substantive interview that enabled Aslan to talk about Roman history, politics, insurrection and the man responsible for creating the revolution.
Green didn’t allow that and it became clear that there was an agenda. She continued to ask how he, a Muslim, could presume to write about Jesus.
Aslan explained that he has a Ph.D in religious studies and has studied and taught it for 20 years. It was a clear, cool explanation that could have been addressed to a confused high school student. It was clear that with each stumbling question, Green was becoming frustrated and angry, not a good thing when you’re a journalist.
When Green pointed out that many scholars disagreed with Aslan’s premise about Jesus, Aslan almost gleefully answered that this was what scholarly debate is all about. He is, of course, correct. I’ve seen scholars debate. Yes, they can get heated, sometimes about seemingly small things, but debate is at the core of all scholarship and always has been.
Green’s most embarrassing moment as a journalist should have been when she accused Aslan of hiding the fact that he is a Muslim. Aslan calmly zeroed in with a clear, concise attack (and yes, I believe he knew exactly what he was doing), when he pointed out that he states his religion on page two of Zealot and that he has made it clear in every interview he’s ever done, challenging her to find one in which he has not stated it.
That effectively ended the interview, making it painfully clear that this professional journalist had not even opened the book and that her staff/producers had done no preparatory research.

The Green/Aslan interview will be taught in college courses for years to come. Journalism professors will use Green as an example of what not to do in an interview, especially when you lose control of it. PR professors will point to Aslan as a prime example of the importance of staying composed and professional while under fire and the importance of reiterating key points (“I have a PhD. . . . I am a scholar . . . I write about all religions”).
In the end, the goal of attacking a scholar on the basis of his faith and staying with an agenda at the expense of a true conversation did five things on an international scale:
-it damaged the interviewer’s credibility;
-it made a scholar a celebrity;
-it instantly drove Zealot to number one on the bestseller lists;
-it created a renewed discussion about religion and scholarship;
-it made a lasting contribution to the teaching of journalism and public relations.

“Disrupted” Should Shake You, Wake You

For years, as a PR professional, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get to high school and college students. I imagined them surrounded by a bubble I couldn’t pierce.
Stefan Pollack explains this generation’s communications world in Disrupted. It’s clear, direct and commendably presents his findings without offering “easy”  answers.
The iGen generation, as he labels it, has created the biggest shakeup in communications in generations. The iGens are those born after 1994 who have never known a world without computers,  parents without mobile devices, and who want their information now and know how to get it instantly.
If it takes more than an instant, it’s too long.
They don’t need to memorize old facts because they curate.
Pollack credits Apple for changing the way we communicate through the introduction of the iPod, which revolutionized the way we buy music and ushered the downfall of record stores, iPhone, and the iPad which signaled the downfall of desktops and laptops. He doesn’t give enough credit to the almost simultaneous appearance of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, and Netflix, which share in the apocalyptic shift in the way we buy, read, listen, communicate and overthrow countries.
This is a minor complaint. Pollack is right. The revolution has happened.
iGen was born into the technology and with unwitting naturalness changed all the rules overnight.
Radio ruled for decades, dictating music we should listen to, infested by commercials. TV fed us nightly shows interrupted by commercials. Newspapers and magazines created cover and inside stories dotted by ads. The book industry told us what we should read. Period.
All are now in death gasps.
The traditional media, gatekeepers of news and scripting what’s important, are gone. iGens, now their own gatekeepers, allow in what’s relevant to them. If they accept it, they share it with their friends, the “infinite touch points.”
If they find you relevant and approve, you may succeed.

If they find you irrelevant, or worse, dishonest, they can injure or even destroy you by simply and instantly spreading the word.
Blasting ads at this generation is a waste of time and money. Relevance and interactivity is the only way to communicate.
And they want humor.
Over the past couple months I’ve found myself recommending Disrupted to members of various boards that I’m on, to my university president, to colleagues. All of us in the marketing world know traditional media is dead to those under 50. Disrupted presents its findings and explains how iGen is  communicating and if you don’t get on board – not just with the social media but understanding the way they’re  thinking, seeing the world and acting in it – you are a historical footnote.
At lunch recently, I ran these ideas past a 17-year-old female songwriter who’s going to college to major in philosophy. She nodded in agreement and added: “I Google things I’m interested in so I’ll get Google and Facebook ads about them.”
Read that sentence until it sinks in. They don’t complain about advertising. They invite brands that interest them.
And Brand, once you’re in, you’d better be real, relevant, transparent, have a sense of humor and a social conscience.
Disrupted passed the iGen test.  It’s the Bible for today’s marketing.

Book Banning Project Simmers, Boils & Explodes

A few months ago, Scott DiMarco, library director at Mansfield University, asked if he could ban my novel One Woman’s Vengeance to show the effects of censorship.

I agreed.

He did it with a simple, formal letter and posted it on the library’s Facebook page. .   Within minutes there was an uproar on campus and  around the country.   I wrote a Huffington Post blog about the experience with almost no response.  I also wrote about it on this blog.

As I reread my post, I was struck with the gravity of Scott’s words at the time: “I hope we’re redeemed in the end.  We have never banned a book in this library and we never will again.”

We all survived the experience, but it was intense, especially on Scott.  In the library world, you fall on your sword or swallow the cyanide before you ban a book.

Scott wrote an article from his perspective.  It was rejected by two library publications and finally published in the July edition of College & Research Libraries.  From there it was like a volcano.  Galley Cat picked it up.  The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund posted it.  The Huffington Post made it their top story in the Books section.  It rose to the first page on the Book section of Reddit. 

From there, other bloggers grabbed it and it continued its viral path.  Within a day, Scott’s article exploded into a national discussion about book banning and censorship with Mansfield University as the center of the discussion.

Scott instantly became the most celebrated librarian in America and the library expert on book banning and censorship.
The fascinating thing to me was that the project had disappeared, then, through an article published in a small, specialty professional magazine, it exploded and flashed through the internet world as a big topic with thoughtful, intelligent, passionate –and occasionally dumb –discussion.
After 37 years in the PR field, this one took me by surprise. And it reinforces the fact that in the cyber world if the message is meaningful, relevant to others, it assumes a  life of its own, and the originators give up control of the message.

Why did it take off the way it did, and what are the implications to PR professionals?

I’ll explore that in the next post.

Mansfield U Zombie Byte Goes International

Recap: I interviewed World War Z author Max Brooks when he visited Mansfield University  in November 2012.  Down-to-earth, direct and  honest, Brooks is an interviewer’s dream.

I had read the book in preparation and knew from hints in the pop culture press,  that the movie would generate international buzz.

I’ve described in the first two posts how we did two half hour TV shows, then pulled a five minute clip in which Brooks talked about how much the movie has in common with his book (none).

We posted the two full interviews.  In May, the Vanity Fair cover story on Brad Pitt and the movie World War Z hit the stands.   That was the opening shot of the international publicity and promotion for the movie.

That’s when we released the five minute clip.  Numerous bloggers and sites, including Fandango, linked our video and posted blogs based on their interpretation of the interview.

I talked in the last post about the mistake I made which probably cost me several thousand views.

Now for the bit of luck I had which gained us several thousand views.  That  came in June, when Brooks declined to talk with mainstream media.

That left them no choice but to reference the Mansfield University video interview for information.

Two of the biggest media outlets –the Associated Press and Yahoo News —  did articles on the movie and the book, using the Mansfield University interview as a source of information.
Both of these articles appeared on the same day, boosting the views of our video  by over 1,000 in 12 hours.

Higher Ed communications guru Dick Jones explained the implications of this.

“The fact that the Max Brooks interview at Mansfield University was referenced by Yahoo and The Associated Press resulted in worldwide media attention for the school,” Dick said.  “That’s because Yahoo and AP are important third-party indicators of quality to media outlets and individual news consumers everywhere.  If AP and Yahoo run with a story, then editors and news directors at all media outlets will view it in a much more favorable light and are much more likely to run it.  And so it proved with this story.  Once given that seal of approval by AP and Yahoo, there was no stopping this one.”

He added that there are a handful of traditionally credible news sources.  “The AP is right at the top.  Yahoo, while much newer, has great clout also due to its platform as the default news provider for millions of individuals.”

Dick concluded by saying, “One take-away from this project has been the affirmation that for AP and Yahoo—and by inference for many other media outlets—YouTube interviews are a credible on-the-record source for journalists today—given equal value with original reporting.”

The other take away is that while the media has changed, the core values of good reporting, honest interviews and solid facts, remain of utmost importance.

Zombie March Leads Viewers to Mansfield University

I hadn’t planned a second post on this but it’s been an adventure and a learning process.
As of today, seven weeks after posting the Max Brooks five minute interview in which he talks about his novel World War Z and the Brad Pitt movie, it has earned  about 36,200 views, 18 comments, 216 likes and 8 dislikes.
We’re grabbing  about 600 views a day.
I had mentioned in the first post that numerous genre bloggers had posted links to the video and did their own commentary which helped enormously.
The international promotion machine designed to guarantee that the movie was a success, only helped our videos.
The  full length Conversations One and Two  interviews have also had steady growth in views, staying almost dead even with each other at around 3,200 views, telling me that viewers seek out the shows following the short version.

Here, I confess a big mistake, or at least a large oversight that no doubt cost us in the publicity game.
A viewer commented on the short video that she wished I had included the last two minutes of Conversations 2.  I had no idea what she was talking about so I reviewed the show’s last two minutes.  Brooks is talking again about how he wants people to know that the movie is nothing like the book.  He says the publishers insisted on doing a movie tie-in edition.  “I don’t want Brad Pitt on the cover of my book,” he says quite forcefully.  “I don’t want people thinking Brad Pitt is in my book.”

I had totally forgotten this segment.  So had my two cameramen and the editor.  It was the perfect sound byte and a line that dozens of bloggers and media outlets would have picked up on.

We decided that doing an “expanded” or “director’s cut” version including the two minutes would just confuse people and to leave well enough alone.  I don’t know if it was the right decision or not.

What I had done was to go to the show and fast forward until I hit the section I remembered and told the editor to pull that five minutes, give it a new intro and we’d post it.  Lesson: I should have reviewed the entire show.

We’re all trying to do several things at once, meet numerous deadlines and rushing to keep up.  In this case, it hurt us.

To survive  in this business, you acknowledge your mistakes or oversights, make a mental note, and move on.  But for a time, I will have visions of headlines in the Huffington Post, Slate, National Enquirer and blogs: “Author says, ‘I Don’t Want Brad Pitt on the Cover of my Book!'”

How often does that chance come along?

Oh yeah, about once in a lifetime.

***

Next: A bit of luck that gave a major boost to our views and a small, important revelation from communications guru Dick Jones.

Repurposing Zombie Interview for Lively Results

When our Student Activities Director said he’d booked Max Brooks, author of the  post-apocalyptic zombie novel World War Z: An Oral History, for a visit to Mansfield University campus in November 2012, I asked him if I could have the author for a couple hours  to interview him on my half hour talk show “Conversations.”
I also volunteered to take the author to lunch. I knew the novel was a best seller but research showed that Max Brooks is a very respected name in the zombie world.

And the zombie world is huge.
I wanted to do the interview for two reasons.
1. Brooks knows his stuff: geography, politics, climate, plagues, infrastructure,  communities and nations working together to rebuild after international calamity. That’s why the Naval War College takes him seriously.
2. Problems plagued the film production. It began with a bidding war between Brad Pitt and Leonardo DeCaprio before the book was even published. Pitt won and the problems began with the script and continued through production and post production. This was going to build to really major publicity.  MU could be in the mix.
My show airs weekly on regional cable outlets, but I also have my own Mansfield University YouTube channel where we post all the shows. It was a no-brainer that World War Z the film was going to create a lot of chatter world-wide and I was being handed a gift.
I read the novel , an interesting, intelligent treatise in the manner of Studs Terkel’s oral histories.
Brooks and I had lunch in a quiet restaurant and began talking. Almost immediately he exclaimed: “You’ve read the book! I can tell in the first 30 seconds if the interviewer has it – and 90 percent of them haven’t.”
We had a lively discussion ranging from zombies to his parents  to his childhood fears that led to his study of zombies. Later we did two half hour interviews. The first was about zombies, what they represent and how to survive zombie attacks. The second was about the writing life and growing up in Hollywood with parents Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft, and, of course, the movie.

Once they were posted, the interviews did respectably for a specialized subject – a few hundred views each. Then, in April 2013, when the Vanity Fair cover story on Brad Pitt and World War z hit the stands, I pulled a five-minute clip from “Conversations” and produced a stand-alone video, and an audio podcast.
I took the information from the interview and wrote a blog for Huffington Post entitled, “World War Z Author Says Movie and Book Share Title Only.” It included links to the two shows and the shorter interview. It went live May 9.

By the end of the day, the video had picked up 48 views.  Folks on my FB page began sharing it.  Genre bloggers grabbed the clip and posted blogs about the interview.

Ten days later  the interview had scored 6,150 views, about 600 views a day.  The “Conversations” interviews picked up several hundred more.

Of course,  Mansfield University is mentioned at the beginning of the shows and in the Huffington Post blog.  I expect all will continue to attract viewers and readers as the World War Z promotion machine kicks into full throttle.

None of the above cost the university a cent other than my time.

Footnote: Producing your own talk show is not complex. I use our TV Services director. We shoot it in the studio and occasionally on location. I give him general directions, sometimes provide photos for B-roll , and he does the editing. It’s great for college-community relations and YouTube, of course, gives you a potential international audience.
I’ll do a future post on  hosting and distributing your own show in the future if you’re interested.