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Some Shameless Self-Promotion This Go-Round

I’m kind of embarrassed to do this, but because of my new position, it’s probably best I spread the word anyway I can. Below is a press release of my hire, which was made official this week:

American Catalog Mailers Association Adds Industry Vet Paul Miller
Washington, DC, Jan. 14, 2010—Hamilton Davison, president & executive director of the American Catalog Mailers Association, today announced the hiring of Paul Miller as vice president & deputy director of the trade organization that serves the needs of catalog mailers.

Miller’s role with the nearly-three-year-old group will run the gamut from relations and close contact with U.S. Postal Service, Postal Regulatory Commission and other key government officials, to membership development, to organizing and overseeing ACMA’s National Catalog Advocacy Forum, April 13-15, 2010, in Nashville.

“We’re excited to have someone with the kind of extensive background in the catalog business that Paul has,” Davison said. “We’ll look to Paul to help expand ACMA’s role in support of catalog retailers and to accelerate the build–up of this vital organization’s membership base.”

Miller most recently served as editor-in-chief of Catalog Success magazine (now called All About ROI). Prior to that, Miller served for 18 years as senior news editor with Catalog Age magazine (now Multichannel Merchant).

Joining ACMA “is a natural evolution in my career,” Miller said. “I’ve gotten so close to so many people in this field over the years; now’s my chance to make a more direct and immediate impact on their businesses. In less than three years, Hamilton and ACMA have already had a very positive influence on catalog mailers’ postal rates and other matters that help boost their bottom lines. I intend to help take ACMA to the next level. Getting there won’t merely be my goal; it’ll be my passion.”

Miller will work full-time out of his home office in Westchester County, N.Y., and can be reached anytime at 914-669-8391 or pmiller@catalogmailers.org.

# # #

About the American Catalog Mailers Association:
ACMA is a Washington-based not-for-profit organization specifically created to advocate for the unique collective interests of catalog mailers in regulatory, public and administrative matters where the shared impact transcends individual company interests. ACMA participates in rulemaking and other proceedings of significance where a single collective voice increases influence and effectiveness. Membership is open to any party with significant interests in the catalog industry. More information can be found at http://www.catalogmailers.org.

Contacts:
Hamilton Davison, 800-509-9514, hdavison@catalogmailers.org
Paul Miller, 914-669-8391, pmiller@catalogmailers.org

Didn’t You Hear? All the World’s a Gossip

The past two weeks have been brutal for me, albeit in a very good way. I was officially hired full-time just before year’s end. But then my new boss, whose job I’ll hopefully make a lot easier, went away on vacation. And he had other more urgent tasks to deal with. We couldn’t get an engagement letter to my new employer’s board of directors until just now, Friday afternoon, the 8th.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve had to tell some 50 people who’ve asked me “so how’s the job hunt goin’?” the truth that I landed something, but that I also couldn’t tell them what it was, because my own board of directors don’t even know yet. Man, this is brutal! Kind of fun, but brutal.

So now, a note is headed their way as I write this, and we intend to distribute an official press release on Monday, assuming all goes smoothly with the board.

Historically, I’ve been a bit of a gossip myself. I’ve always had a devil of a time keeping a secret, though I’ve been pretty good for the past few weeks, only letting family members and really close friends who have no connections to the media and marketing business know. But the other day, word leaked out to two people, who’ll remain nameless, and boy did I go into a panic.

They received a confidential document that was supposed to have had my name edited out of it. I jumped on the phone to call one of them, then emailed both of them to request they keep it hush. They complied, at least I assume so. I know them both well and I’m sure they wouldn’t want to hurt me or anything. But I wasn’t even supposed to be in contact with them yet. Hard to explain without divulging more, but the message here is, how remarkable it is when even a dumb little secret like this leaks out and how easily it can get around, especially in this age.

Did they quickly email several confidants to tell them about my hire before I got to them? Maybe, who knows? In the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter age, word can spread faster than lightening. I certainly hope not, but then again, I haven’t received any congrats from anyone since, so I guess the cat’s still in the bag. I just can’t wait till Monday when we let that cat out!

Tiger’s Mess Will Test the Media & the Public’s Short-Sightedness, Part 2 of 2

I came home last night from a trip to the Midwest for a job interview. As I walked through the world’s most easy to get in and out of airport (Westchester Airport in White Plains, N.Y.), I walked past a big billboard Accenture ad with Tiger Woods. Apparently Accenture’s massive recall of all images of golf’s most beloved playboy didn’t get through to that little suburban airport yet. Accenture pulled all its Tiger ads as of last Sunday, Dec. 13.

After posting a part 1 about how the Woods scandal will impact everyone’s short-sightedness, today I was going to address how it’ll impact Woods’ current and future sponsors. While I’m no expert on endorsements, I think it’s going to hurt Woods’ pocketbook for a long time to come. I know Nike’s standing by its man, which it should. But other past/current/future endorsements, such as Accenture, which may represent a larger chunk of change for Woods, may never come back.

My sense is, if it’s about sports, Woods will fare alright with future endorsements once the world gets used to him as a divorced playboy of the western world. But non-sports endorsements may be tougher for him to come by. Shaving isn’t usually about family matters, but sometimes shaving companies depict Dad shaving with his little boy smearing shaving cream on his face. So I wonder if Gillette will remain with Tiger or not. And will others of a similar nature shy away from him indefinitely?

Not too sure about that. What do you think? Post a reply; could be a fun interaction.

Tiger’s Mess Will Test the Media & the Public’s Short-Sightedness, Part 1 of 2

The media loves to pounce on big-name celebs who get caught doing bad things, doesn’t it? Of course, all that pouncing in the form of cameras flashing and taping, and reporters digging for the dirtiest of the dirt gets consumers’ attention with genuine ease. But even celebrities like Tiger Woods, who over the past month has unwillingly become a huge celeb off the golf course, only seem to get their 15 minutes of fame. Then they seem to be forgotten pretty quickly.

Of course, the jury’s still out on how Woods’ admitted extramarital affairs will affect his celebrity both on and off the course in the long run. Perhaps one of the most common situations involved former President Bill Clinton’s trysts with Monica Lewinsky. Now, more than a decade later, we see how that played out: He’s still looked upon as a wise, if not brilliant, politician. People flock to see him speak — he makes millions doing so. And no doubt, he could easily show up on the TV screen and pitch products if he so chose to (well, maybe not for a cigar company). But at the same time, nobody’s ever forgotten what he did with the most famous White House intern on the planet.

The sportscaster Marv Albert and his bizarre extra-marital affairs also comes to mind. He remains a prominent basketball play-by-play man for TNT, but his stock plunged after his “thing” surfaced. His longtime gig as the New York Knicks play-by-play man was the primary casualty at the time. But fans still love to hear him call out “Yes!” don’t they/we?

In Tiger’s case, he’ll presumably either find a way to patch things up with his wife Elin and be able to brush his numerous affairs under the carpet. Or, they’ll wind up divorcing and his way of life with the assorted ladies will simply become an acceptable thing that simply will be him being the ladies’ man he’s presumably been all along.

Taking an indefinite hiatus from tournament golf is probably wise. Let this news die, then resurface when the time is right. Then win a few tournaments, give the fans more thrills with a few championship-winning, 25-foot putts on the 18th green, and all anybody will care about anymore is how many of Jack Nicklaus’s records he breaks.

Nobody will forget what he’s done or that Nicklaus was always true-blue to his wife and family, but the news he’ll make will once again be all about golf, rather than fodder for Us Weekly or the Inquirer.

Later in the week, Part 2 of this series will focus on the long term marketing impact on Woods’ sponsors.

Is it Me, or Is More of What We’re Reading Online a Bunch of B.S.?

Since becoming an independent editing, writing and marketing consultant, I’ve been reading more and more stuff coming into my email inbox than ever before. Newsletters, blogs, tweets, company Websites, you name it. I still read my trusty (and trustworthy) printed New York Times every morning over breakfast, BusinessWeek and others, but I’m finding that I’m spending more of my reading time with internet babble.

I may be sounding like a youngish Andy Rooney here, but it just appears that more and more online b-to-b material written by the so-called experts consists of such experts just shooting off their keyboards more than anything else. They toss out a few ideas; some may be usable, some may even be implementable. But by in large, I’m finding more of it to be internet babble.

Sh*t, what I’m typing right now is basically internet babble, isn’t it? It’ll hopefully stir you up a little, but in reality, I’m just another online talking head.

There is a pro side to this: It is my intent to get you thinking with my prose here. Other bloggers are basically doing the same thing more or less. But although there’s plenty of very good and useful stuff to be read, some who toss out so-called actionable tips are basically shooting from the hip more than anything else.

Hey, I love feedback. And as a former editorial director I reported to once said, “I love getting hate mail.” Take me to the mat here. Tell me how wrong (or right) I am. Hit me with your best shot, and let’s get a good debate going.

Is The Death of Print Being Over-Stated?

Every day, you see proof that print’s dying. Almost all publications — from newspapers to magazines to catalogs and brochures — are getting smaller, both in page counts and trim sizes.

But every now and then you come across some encouraging signs that there just may continue to be a viable role for print down the road. This morning I read a small article in The New York Times about how e-commerce shoe retailer Zappo’s is succeeding in mailing print catalogs. The article made me recall the kinds of articles I used to write during the print catalog’s heyday when I was an editor with the former Catalog Age magazine (now Multichannel Merchant).

The Zappo’s article showed that Zappo’s can bring in much bigger orders from customers who respond to its print catalogs than it does from online customers. That’s always been the case since the Web came along, and it’s showing no signs of changing. Makes me wonder if the costs of print, postal and paper can level off in the next few years whether that business may be rejuvenated.

As for newspapers and magazines, that remains anybody’s guess right now.

Media’s Titles Are Often Just Insignificant Semantics

Earlier this week, I read a very insightful blog by Darrah MacLean, a copywriter at Smith-Harmon, a digital marketing services agency and a unit of Responsys, about how the media — and the general public — have adopted “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” as shopping “holidays.” His overall take on both is that they’re both pretty weak monikers, mostly negative and even a little lame (particularly the outdated-sounding “Cyber Monday”).

I’d agree with Darrah to an extent. Especially the negativity that comes from the first term, which he pointed out was originally coined after the stock market crash of 1987. Except when applied to African-Americans, the word “black” is usually negative, so there’s really little positive to be found in the expression, “Black Friday.” I also agree with Darrah that “cyber” anything is old and outdated. I vividly recall about 13 years ago somebody telling me in what was then a new tool called email that I should loosen up and “get cyber!” Old stuff now.

But here’s where I disagree: Darrah and some of the people who wrote replies to his blog suggest that “Black Friday” should just be referred to as the “day after Thanksgiving sale” or something more positive or better descriptive. To that I ask, What’s in a title? Do consumers really care?

Darrah said in his blog that when he entered a J. Crew store that day, a clerk said “welcome to Black Friday.” Would that have led Darrah or the average consumer to panic and scream “Yikes! I’m gettin’ outta here!” and to bolt? No. All consumers want are the bargains. What do they care about media-induced semantics? If I knew that all the stores in the local mall were offering all their merchandise at, say, 75% off with no exceptions (which would be about the only way to get me to shop on Black Friday), I really wouldn’t care if they called it “F**k-Off Friday.” A bargain’s a bargain.

If my memory’s correct, I believe the first football championship game to be called the “Super Bowl” was the third one when the Jets stunned the Colts. Does that mean that the Packers, who won the first two championships between the NFL and the old AFL, never won a Super Bowl? Of course not. Just semantics spread by the media.

Is Anything Really ‘Interesting?’

I tend to be a very no-nonsense kind of editor. As I just mentioned to someone this morning, with rare exception, I’ll always delete the word “interesting” from any article, because it’s a way for the writer or person being quoted to say something about some-thing or somebody when they really have nothing noteworthy to say. If you read that something’s interesting, does that really mean anything to you? Neither does Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Just insignificant semantics.

Labels and titles can be nice (“Super Bowl” makes the winning team feel truly “super”); they can be quite revealing (“Mother’s Day,” “Father’s Day”). But with the two recent shopping “holidays,” I believe they can be mostly inconsequential.

Marketing, Lagging Print ROI Have Broken Up the Media Team

Considering that blogs are, by in large, highly personal ramblings, the inspiration of mine since I launched it a few weeks ago has been how I’ve shifted from being a fairly hard-core journalist to becoming more a part of the marketing world. I’m still a journalist by trade. But now that I’m a free agent who’s been busy lining up freelance marketing work while seeking my next full-time endeavor, I’m looking to produce content that contributes more directly to the bottom line.

Being a career business-to-business journalist, I represent a portion of the half of the media team that has made, or is trying to make, this shift. Like other fading or transforming trades victimized by the steady death of print and the rise of the immediacy of the internet, B-to-B journalism isn’t nearly as profitable as it once was. I was laid off, because my position was eliminated, thereby saving the company the money it needs to continue operating my publication profitably.

While other B-to-B publishing companies have gradually slimmed down their editorial staffs over the past few years, some have gone a step further by forcing editors to take furloughs. A former company of mine forced its editors to work four-day work weeks this past summer. That amounted to a 20% pay cut while the editors were forced to do what already was about six days worth of work in four days.

Most B-to-B publications are free to readers and paid for by advertisers. But the vendors who advertise in the trades aren’t doing so anymore. Either their ad budgets are getting hacked or they’re turning to less-expensive online ways to generate leads. Even webinars that B-to-B publishers stage supported by advertiser sponsorship money are a tough sell, because many vendors are putting on their own webinars.

That leaves many B-to-B journalists like myself out looking for the kind of work that companies will be willing to pay for. And I’m finding that unless I can bring some sort of tangible, bottom-line guarantee to the table, I’m not going to be very marketable. So I have to join the part of the media team that’s more closely tied to marketing.

That’s not a bad thing. Journalistic objectivity and integrity aren’t going away in the B-to-B journalism world. You just have to look a little further to find them. If you want the true stories, the behind-the-scenes scoops, you best turn to the newswires for them. BusinessWeek and the Wall Street Journal are still around (in theory, those journalists play for the other media team, the one not directly connected to marketing). But they’re not very healthy either, so who knows how long that team is for this world.

They Said it Couldn’t Be Done: Journalist Becomes Marketer/Salesman

It’s basically part of our DNA: We editors are sales-phobes. Traditionally, salespeople bring in the revenue; we spend it. We’re friendly and appreciate our sales brethren, but they tend to be “the others” to us. But I’m excited because I can feel myself becoming part of that other side — at least, to an extent.

For someone who got a Bachelor’s degree in journalism & mass communications, but who wants to work his way into the marketing/communications world upon receiving his walking papers this week from my current editor-in-chief gig, I must say that all the self-promotion I’ve done lately to achieve my career goals has been quite an eye-opener.

The best lessons I’ve received have come from all the work I’ve put into my LinkedIn page and profile. Today, I contacted a bunch of people and asked for recommendations. Many were kind enough to write them for me; a few asked me how I’d like theirs to read. Talk about shameless self-promotion! I don’t believe I could’ve done this as recently just a month ago.

But a lot has changed in my life since I received a fateful phone call out of the blue on Nov. 3 from my boss and company H.R. director, two lovely ladies I still love to pieces, regardless of the rotten news they had to smack me down with. Like they say in sports, “it’s business,” right? I harbor no ill-will. If anything, it launched my new education into sales and marketing, and for that I’m grateful.

I’ve been on a self-marketing tear (which at times has rhymed with “beer”) ever since. Obviously, everyone goes through this at one point or another in their careers. These days, with all the online tools available — LinkedIn being only one of many — you can really learn more about yourself than ever before possible, by blabbing it out there for all to see. You explore every angle of yourself and of the kind of work you want to do. You’re really forced to do this, but like many, awful-tasting foods, it’s good for you.

My job search remains a work in progress, though I’m pleased with where I’ve come so far. I feel ready to take on myriad types of jobs, rather than limiting myself to just another editorial gig — although I’d be just as happy if I remain in editorial, what with my extensive background (there I go boasting again). LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, The Ladders, and so forth — you get great on-the-job training as you fill out all these forms and communicate with all your contacts. It’s just been a great, mind-opening experience all around.

I’m confident I can offer marketable content, and I can sell it. And in this environment, if you can’t sell it, ain’t nobody else is gonna do it for ya.

Black Friday? Cyber Monday? It’s Binge Discounting All This Week

Blogger’s Note: Following today’s entry, I’ll take a hiatus until next week. So today, I offer you a broader assessment of how the discount retail shopping game is shaping up this week.

Who knows where we’ll be a year from now, but at least for this season of store and online retail bargains, the killer sales are already going on. Although there will still be big store sales this Friday and probably even bigger ones online next Monday, the big retailers already began to duke it out for the lowest prices earlier this month.

As an article on the front page of Tuesday’s New York Times noted about the biggest store retailer (Wal-Mart) and online merchant (Amazon.com), the gloves have already come off. And as the Times article points out, Wal-Mart has used the media to pick apart Amazon.com’s discounting efforts, trying to ensure the public that its prices will always be the lowest. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has taken more of a high road, noting that bargains can come from all over, not just Wal-Mart.

These two “shopping holidays” haven’t been around all that long. Although Wikipedia tells us that the term “Black Friday” dates all the way back to 1966, it also notes that it didn’t take on a true shopping connotation until 2000. Cyber Monday didn’t hit its stride until just four years ago.

Now, however, with cash-strapped consumers perhaps looking to get back in the shopping game this holiday season, they’re hungrier than ever for a good bargain. Retailers, e-commerce merchants and catalog sellers are equally eager to offer the bargains to show some sort of sales gains this season to make up for the miserable time they’ve had throughout the Great Recession.

Then, you have to factor in the tragedy that took place at a Valley Stream, Long Island, Wal-Mart store just 12 months ago when bargain-hungry shoppers trampled over a defenseless Wal-Mart employee as the store opened at the stroke of 5:00am on Black Friday, fighting their way to the store’s sale items. Wal-Mart announced just last week that although its stores will open at 5am again this Friday, it would keep its stores open a full 24 hours thereafter to try to prevent more The Who’s 1979 Cincinnati concert-like stampedes from occurring again.

What this all adds up to is the likelihood of these two shopping holidays expanding beyond just the two days. This year will offer just a taste of it. Next year could see a considerable expansion of sales days at this time of year.

It’s a trend not unlike the so-called “fifth quarter” of retail business that evolved over the past 20-plus years as the holiday shopping season took on greater and greater importance to retailers, catalog marketers and later, online sellers. What started as a surge of sales immediately following Dec. 25 kept expanding week by week over the years, leading all the way back to this very week we’re now in.

If you can date yourself all the way back to the recession of the early ’80s, you might recall the last extended period of time in American retail when cut-throat discounting reached such levels. As the economy picked up in the mid-’80s, discounting eased up, full-priced retailing edged back and service levels improved. Perhaps that could occur as soon as next year at this time, but I’m guessing that the current state of binge discounting will prevail.