Small business blogging

Excerpted from The New Influencers by Paul Gillin, Quill Driver Books, 2007.

Stephen Powers isn’t an Internet guy. Stephen Powers is an automotive guy. He opened his first auto reconditioning shop when he was 17. That was 1983 and Powers has been passionate about auto reconditioning ever since.

Stephen Powers is smart about technology, though, and when he first used the Internet a decade ago, he realized it was going to be an asset to his business. That’s because Powers’ business,, Inc., isn’t the kind you’d find in the phone book. San Diego-based Rightlook helps people get started in the auto reconditioning business. Rightlook provides education, training and materials to help them market, manage and grow a real company.

The problem with marketing a business like Rightlook is that it doesn’t fit into any conventional “bucket.” People don’t go to the phone book looking for help getting into auto reconditioning. They might look for books or magazines in the library about entrepreneurship, but they’re probably going to hit on auto reconditioning only by accident.

But people might open up Google and type “automotive reconditioning” and up pops Rightlook. That’s because Stephen Powers is a marketer at heart and has used Internet savvy to build Rightlook’s visibility and make it a leader in its niche. Rightlook’s website is about as polished as you’ll ever see for a company of its size. There are only 20 employees in the company, but one of them works full-time on the website.

In the summer of 2005, Powers bought an iPod. He began to poke around the Internet, looking for podcasts about his interests, like photography and marketing. “It didn’t take long to realize that this would be big,” he says.

Powers invested $5,000 in equipment, a princely sum in the low-rent world of podcasting. But he wanted to do it right. RightLook has succeeded, in part, because it always looked bigger online than it was in real life. RightLook Radio would be no different. Besides, the company was in the business of creating training materials. It couldn’t afford to put out a shoddy educational product.

Rightlook Radio launched in early 2006. It’s a talk-show format and new shows are posted every three weeks or so. Powers and co-host Mel Craig bring customer into the studio to talk about their success and extol the benefits of auto reconditioning as a career. The show isn’t about selling Rightlook. It’s about spotlighting success. It just happens that Rightlook’s services relate very directly to that goal.

Stephen Powers is having a blast. He’s got an engaging, friendly style and he’s a natural for radio. A female staffer conducts field interviews, a subtle message that auto detailing is a good business for women, too. In fact, one of the shows spotlighted a reconditioning business run by women.

Powers is putting every ounce of his marketing experience behind Rightlook radio. It has promoted the podcast in full page trade magazine ads, sent out press releases and made t-shirts. When clients come to visit, they get a tour of the professional-looking studio. Rightlook looks hip and in tune with technology.

Powers doesn’t have any hard statistics on the podcast’s success, but says downloads have been in the thousands. It doesn’t really matter. The whole program paid for itself after one customer signed a $24,000 deal after listening to a podcast. Another show about ozone machines led to multiple machine sales in the days after the podcast launched.

Operational costs are next to nothing, and the buzz that the program generates in its industry is well worth the effort, Powers says. “Without question, we’re going to continue to do this for a long time,” he says. And with each episode, Rightlook puts more distance between itself and its competitors.

Just do it

Stephen Powers is a prototypical New Influencer. He cares deeply about a very specific discipline. He has plenty of expertise and the gift of communication. He’s in a position to influence a lot of other people who care about his specialty. The only difference between Powers and the enthusiasts profiled in Chapter 3 is that Powers has a product to sell.

In the last chapter, we talked about the tightrope that corporations walk in venturing into social media. Small and medium-sized businesses have none of those issues, though. Regulatory pressures are minimal, everyone in the company is in contact with customers and you probably are an expert in a very specific discipline. Corporations must answer questions about why they should be in the blogosphere. Small businesses need to answer questions about why they shouldn’t.

Here are some reasons that social media is so well-tuned to smaller businesses:

It’s all about search – Google and its competitors are the best thing that ever happened to small business. Companies that can’t afford to advertise can achieve international visibility in vertical disciplines through search performance. As we noted earlier, blogs do exceptionally well on Google because of the search engine’s fondness for frequent updates and relevant page titles. A focused blog, podcast or videocast that stakes out an unclaimed niche in the market can come to dominate search results in a short time. The more you write, the faster you’ll move.

Get personal – One of the main reasons people do business with a small company is to get personal service. Blogs and podcasts are all about personality. If you bring a distinctive voice, a sense of humor and a hint of passion to your commentaries, people will feel like they know you. And that will make it easier for them to do business with you.

The voice of authority – Let’s suppose you’re a small business that specializes in scuba diving equipment, training and excursions. You decide to specialize in the new technology of closed-circuit rebreathers. Launching a blog that helps people to understand the technology and its benefits will get you quick results. People searching on that term are likely to find your helpful, educational articles on rebreathers ahead of the catalog entries of the equipment companies because, remember, Google favors content over commerce. You won’t get anywhere near that kind of cost-efficiency from advertising.

You can’t beat the cost – At monthly prices that top out at $15, the cost of a blog is a non-issue. You can produce a decent podcast for less than $300 worth of equipment. Your real investment is time, so you have to ask how much of your new-business investment you’re willing to channel into this effort.

Several tales of small-business blogging success are almost legendary at this point. is a blog by Thomas Mahon a Saville Row tailor who was frustrated that more people didn’t appreciate the distinction between off-the-rack suits and the work of a professional custom tailor. His blog, launched in early 2005, talks about the fine points of fine tailoring. Because Mahon was one of the first tailors to start a blog, he got lots of attention from other bloggers and the media. And the recognition translated directly into business.

As detailed by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel in their book Naked Conversations, “When Mahon was in New York in December, 2005, he sold only two [suits]. When he returned 10 weeks after starting a blog, he sold 20 suits and eight sport coats, more than he had sold before in an entire year.”

Mahon’s blog has become such a must-read phenomenon that he speculates that he could make a trip to any city a success by simply posting on his blog that he plans to be there on certain days. Marketer Hugh McLeod, who dreamed up English Cut, said Mahon’s business tripled in six months because of it.

Stormhoek, a startup South African wine maker, entered the U.K. market by sending free bottles of wine to 150 bloggers – no strings attached. Instead of a website, the company channeled all its marketing through a blog. Sales doubled to 100,000 cases in the year after the experiment was launched and the company went from 0% to 20% market share in its category in the U.K. For its U.S. entry, Stormhoek invited bloggers to organize local dinners. As long as they supplied the people, Stormhoek would provide the wine. Bloggers came up with creative ideas like a Father’s Day theme in Santa Maria, CA, a hot dog-eating contest in Bellevue, WA; and a GPS treasure hunt in Burlington, Vt. The campaign was organized by David Parmet, a public relations professional and blogger.

SignsNeverSleep – This frequently updated blog by the owner of a small sign maker in Lincoln, N.H. is a testament to the power of social media as a way for craftspeople to share their expertise. Owner J.D. Iles details the loving attention that master sign makers pay to their craft in his posts and copious photos of Lincoln Sign Co.’s latest creations.

Illes spends only about 15 minutes a day on the blog, but he writes nearly every day. He told Radiant Marketing Group: “The weblog shows my customers what we are: a small business that is approachable, fun, and hopefully they like the work we do.” Websites and weblogs are great tools, but you can use a tool well, or badly. A “web-presence” should show off your company as it is, and highlight the strengths you have because of “how your business is”. Iles attributes about a 10% increase in business to the blog.

A Painting a Day – Duane Keiser, a Richmond, Va.-based painter, creates a small painting every day and posts a image of it on his blog, along with an invitation to buy. He originally sold them for $100 each, but demand got so strong that he started taking bids on eBay, according to a USA Today profile. He was soon getting $400 to $800 per painting and without the 50% commissions typically charged by galleries. Keiser, who used to sell a couple of paintings a year, is now able to make a good living selling his art, the paper said.

Nancy BoyThe San Francisco-based toiletries maker owes its success, in part to a blog. The company, which targets gay men, did about $100,000 in business in 2001, when it launched. Then it became a favorite of, a blog dedicated to shaving. As favorable references to Nancy Boy continued to appear on Shaveblog, business grew to $4 million in 2006. Nancy Boy co-founder Eric Roos also maintains a popular blog on the company site detailing his experiences as a gay man.

Here are some more recent examples of how small/midsized businesses are becoming influencers and having fun at the same time.

The Tin man

Some of the best small-business blogs are in some of the most prosaic industries. The Tinbasher Blog was started by Paul Woodhouse in May, 2004 to help out his brother, who runs Butler Sheetmetal, a UK-based metal-working company. “Initially it was nothing other than an experiment. There was very little to lose and my expectations were simply to be able to open the company up,” says Woodhouse.

The site was lightly trafficked until it was mentioned in an article in The Times of London newspaper that fall. That’s when traffic started to build and Woodhouse began to blog more aggressively. He’s developed a style that’s uniquely Tinbasher, a friendly insider with a puckish twist. “I try to convey what we’d be like if you actually came round to the workshop for a brew,” he says. “It’s informal, parochial and colloquial.”

It’s also amassed quite a following: about 2,000 visitors a day for a website about sheet metal. Tinbasher Blog has already paid for itself many times over. According to a profile in The Guardian, Butler’s annual sales rose from £60,000 to £80,000 a year before the blog was launched to £130,000 in 2005. “Probably 30% to 40% of that comes through the website,” including around 90% of new business, Woodhouse told the paper. “When we just had the website, you would get a very general enquiry. When people have read the blog, they invariably refer to an individual post – it’s a lot chattier email you receive.”

Customers have quoted from blog posts when placing orders and products features on the blog frequently see a spike in sales. Then there’s the boost in search engine results that the blog has stimulated and the media calls. Tinbasher has been profiled at length in the press.

The unanticipated payoff for Tinbasher has been the boost it’s given to employee morale. Sheet metal work isn’t exactly a glamour profession, but Butler’s long-serving employees are proud of their craft and their expertise. The blog has become a way to show off their achievements.

“At first they called it a ‘blob,’ but now they love it,” says Woodhouse. “They regularly tell me tales that have happened during the week with the proviso that they’d be good blog material.”

Girl power is a new business that helps auto dealerships and automotive retailers tap the female audience. Women buy more than half the new cars in the U.S. and influence 85% of new auto and truck purchases, says Jody DeVere, president of the company.

The male-dominated auto business is notoriously weak at addressing female customers. Sales outlets tend to be owned by individuals, more than 90% of whom are male, and sales tactics are handed down through generations. With women increasingly flexing their economic muscles, AskPatty is addressing dealers’ and retailers’ needs to better serve that audience. The business model is to provide a comprehensive training and certification program for sales and service organizations, who can then display the AskPatty logo in the showrooms and on their websites.

A blog is a key part of AskPatty’s business plan. The company could have built a standard FAQ or question-and-answer section on its website, but the founders felt the user experience would be too sterile. A blog was more personal and provocative. Voice was important.

AskPatty’s blog celebrates women. Its articles not only offer advice but showcase the accomplishments of female drivers, encourage women to get into the automotive business and trumpet the power of female buyers. It features profiles of and guest columns from women who have been successful in the male-dominated industry. The site defines Patty as

…a Mom, Daughter, Wife, Niece, Grandmother and Auntie; Patty is young, old, married, single, an experienced driver, a new driver, a race car driver , a hot rod driver, a classic car driver, a mini van driver, a truck drver, a luxury car driver, an SUV driver, a disabled driver, a carpool driver, a stay at home Mom, a female excutive, is gay, straight and comes in all the sizes, shapes and colors of the rainbow…Patty is YOU, ME and US : Women Consumers.

AskPatty struck a chord with its audience. It also got lucky. Shortly after its May, 2006 launch, the site was spotlighted on the home page of Typepad, a leading provider of blog hosting software. Traffic soared to more than a half million visitors a week over the next two months. Visitors were submitting so many questions that the site struggled to meet its commitment to a 24-hour turnaround on answers.

DeVere says the blog offers capabilities for connecting with readers that a website can’t match. The authors of the AskPattty blog are clearly women and their style belies a sympathetic voice. Asked what works in running a business blog, she writes, “Pick a theme and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to use all the tools and means available to publicize your blog. Stay committed to providing interesting content at least three to four times a week. Serious business blogging takes a big commitment of time, energy and brain power.”

Becoming an influencer

The factors that constrain small/medium businesses from leveraging social media are completely different from those that limit corporations. It’s mainly an issue of time. Small business owners and employees are generally more resource-constrained and time-strapped than their corporate counterparts and the frequency with which you need to update a blog – ideally at least once a week – can be a hardship. Smaller businesses owners also don’t necessarily have strong writing or speaking skills or access to people with those talents.

But you can be effective enough with a modest investment of time to make the effort worthwhile. Here are some tricks to consider:

Specialize – If your topic is very specific, you can get away with a less-frequent publishing schedule and still see good impact in search engine results and links. The dive shop that specializes in closed-circuit rebreathers is one example. Tinbasher is another. If no one else is writing about your topic, you can afford to be a little less rigorous about maintaining a strict writing schedule.

Choosing the right topic can be tricky, though. If you’re too specific, no one will come at all. Or you may run out of things to say. Try homing in on a new practice or technology that’s affecting your business. Or you can take a tips-and-tricks approach, posting a new idea every week. Several highly trafficked blogs take this approach; take a look at and for ideas.

Be offbeat – Cater to readers’ sense of humor or the bizarre by featuring nuggets of trivia that relate to your business. If you’re an insurance broker, for example, spotlight the strangest claim of the week. If you own a pet store, feature an interesting cat fact or new pet idea.

Start a diary – Blog software is the perfect format for recording a sequence of events because it’s organized chronologically. Many of the most popular personal blogs on the Web are nothing more than personal diaries of people who have a knack for finding humor or meaning in ordinary events. Would other people be interested in knowing about what you do? Don’t sell yourself short; there’s a little voyeur in most of us and peeking into the day-to-day life of others is intriguing.

If you run a local theatre company, blog about the process of getting a performance ready. If you’re a hairdresser, talk about the stories your customers tell you. If you install air conditioning, write about what’s involved in ducting an old house. In fact, take a video camera along on your next job and record some of the tricks you use. Then post the video on YouTube or Google Video or another free service and link to it from your blog. This is reality TV writ large and you’re the star, if you can just get across to your readers the passion you feel about your work.

Use audio and images – All blog software supports images and a $50 digital camera can take pretty nice snapshots these days. Illustrate the topics you write about. If you’re a hairdresser, show some new styles you’ve come up with. If you own an auto body shop, snap some before-and-afters. Be sure to tag your images (we explain that in Chapter 9) so they get picked up by the search engines.

In the same vein, podcasting is a golden opportunity for small businesses. You can get acceptable quality with a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of equipment, free editing software like Audacity and cheap or free hosting services. Try Q&A interviews with your staff or sit down with a steady customer and talk about a problem she solved. How-to podcasts are also a good bet. If you’re a floor refinisher, tell people how to remove wood spots or identify different kinds of hardwoods. If you’re a recruiter, share resume and interview tips. A painter? Help customers make perfect corners. Call it “tip in a minute” and really keep your length to 60 seconds and you’ll have a winner.

Celebrate others – Small business owners enjoy a level of collegiality with others in their markets that doesn’t exist in the hyper-competitive corporate world. If there are others in your business who blog or podcast, point to their sites and compliment their good work. Send them an e-mail and post a trackback, so they know you were there. You’ll get reciprocal links and everyone’s traffic will grow.

As you can see, there is no shortage of ideas for small business people who want to build an online presence. However, one group, more than any other, has led the way in using social media to raise their visibility and promote their expertise. They’re the public relations professionals, and many people think social media is their chance to shine.

Five Tips for a Killer Q&A

While YouTube has grabbed all the headlines in this young year, podcasting has quietly gone mainstream. An increasing number of businesses, particularly in the high-tech field, are using podcasts to communicate with prospects and customers about very specific messages.

Paul Gillin Communications has produced more than 70 podcasts in the past year, the majority in the simple but effective Q&A format. We’ve learned a lot in the process, and thought we’d share some best practices with you.

Q&A isn’t the only valid podcast format, but it works very well for business marketing. It exposes the talent in your organization, is reasonably fast and easy to produce and segments the program into manageable soundbites that are easy to consume. There’s a big difference between a Q&A that excites your listeners, though, and one that bores them. Usually, the following five factors make the difference.

Be interesting— This may sound blatantly obvious, but it’s advice I wish more of our interview subjects would heed. You need to get your message across, but you also need to wrap it in a bigger message that gives the listener immediate value or new insight. Too often, speakers just fall back to delivering a product pitch. This is death. Podcast listeners have lots of choices and they will quickly pull the plug on content that doesn’t interest them. Try to give your listeners at least one nugget of useful information every five minutes. That’ll keep them hooked.

Think about your answers – I always provide my interview subjects with questions for the Q&A at least a day in advance, and if it’s your podcast, I’d recommend you do the same. Your podcast will be much more satisfying if you jot down talking points and anecdotes to guide your responses. This doesn’t mean you should read from a script. Believe me, the audience will figure that out in a minute. But there’s nothing wrong with having an outline to make sure you get your points across. An outline also helps you stick to answering the question that was asked and prevents you from talking on tangents, which brings us to our second tip.

Keep it short — The most common mistake I hear speakers make is to drone on with repetitive answers that run four and five minutes for each question. You may care passionately about the details of your product, but remember that your listeners probably can’t parse your message at that level. They want to get a quick summary of the market and the issues. Here’s a suggestion: Put an egg timer in front of you and turn it over whenever you start a new answer. By the time that a timer is half way down, you should be wrapping up. If the timer runs out entirely, stop talking.

Tell stories — Reporters know that readers respond to anecdotes and first-person accounts. They bring a topic to life and frame the message in a way that listeners intuitively understand. Your case studies are a valuable resource here. Cite examples of what customers are actually doing with your products or tell a first-person story about a customer you visited or spoke with. Or just talk about your own experience using or seeing the product. Personalize your message and people will understand it better.

Speak clearly and deliberately — Be aware of any verbal tics you have — “you know” is a common one — and make an effort to eliminate them when you’re on the air. I call these “verbal placeholders.” They are a tool that people use unconsciously to mark time while deciding what to say next. Avoid them. They will be much more obvious on a recording than in a conversation. Practicing your answers before it’s time to record and sticking to an outline, which provides your next point if you lose your place, will help you prevent yourself from “you know”ing your way through a podcast.

Whoops! I lied. There are SIX tips:

Take advantage of the medium — Unlike broadcast media, podcasts are forgiving. You can easily rerecord what you say and splice it seamlessly into the program. If you don’t think you answered a question very well, just do it again. Audio editing software makes it possible to replace your old answer with the new one in just a few minutes.We are often asked what is the ideal length of a podcast? The truth is that it depends. An excellent speaker will get much more leeway from the audience than a poor one. This 48-minute speech by Steve Wozniak will have you spellbound whereas I’ve moderated 15-minute podcasts that were just awful.Personally, I like to keep podcasts to less than 20 minutes, including eight to 10 question-and-answer pairs and an introduction. I find that 15 minutes is about ideal.

Here are some links to podcast interviews that went particularly well:

Preventing Digital Crime – Government Regulation or Industry Standards – Howard Schmidt is a former national security czar, but he’s also an energetic and exciting speaker who’s on top of his subject. It was a great idea on Qualys’ part to use him as a resource like this. (You have to register to download this one.)

SaaS Advantage Podcast Series with Greg Gianforte – The CEO of RightNow Technologies knows when to stop talking and that makes his answers more effective. He’s also just an interesting person, which I would recommend your speakers be, also.

How to Encourage Innovative Thinking: An Interview With Larry Weber — Note how Larry tells stories throughout this interview to get his points across. By using examples, he brings the topic to life and makes his answers easier to relate to. I guarantee you will remember at least one anecdote from this interview.

Putting ‘Public’ Back in Public Relations

The following is an excerpt from The New Influencers: A Marketer’s Guide to the New Social Media by Paul Gillin. The book is scheduled to be published in March, 2007. For more information, visit the book website.

The holidays are typically a slow time in the public relations business. But David Meerman Scott isn’t the type of guy to take it easy. Scott, a former bond trader and content marketing specialist who launched his own marketing consulting company in 2002, took advantage of the 2005-2006 holiday season to write down some ideas that he been kicking around in his head for some time.

What Scott did over the next three weeks would change his career and his life.

It would launch his business in a new direction and make him an internationally recognized authority on content marketing. And it started with a blog.

David Meerman Scott had a beef with the PR business. He had long believed that the public relations profession was too focused on the media. His epiphany came in 1995, when Yahoo! made the decision to start including press releases along with mainstream media coverage on its financial news wires. When you searched on a company name, a press release was just as likely to appear in the search results as a Reuters story. Anyone could now read a press release. So why were PR agencies so focused on the media? And why did they call them “press” releases in the first place?

On December 20, 2005, Scott began to write down his thoughts. He came up with the idea for an electronic book called The New Rules of PR: How to create a press release strategy for reaching buyers directly. In it, he proposed to blow up the old rules of PR. Stop writing press releases only when news happened. Find reasons to send them all the time. Stop writing just for the media. Address the public directly. Make releases rich with searchable keywords and URLs that lead to landing pages on your website. Optimize them for searching and browsing.

It was very Web 2.0 and Scott’s timing was impeccable. He invested a couple of thousand dollars in professional design and, on January 16, 2006, posted the 21-page document on his Web site. Then he fired off e-mails to about 30 friends and waited to see what happened.

“I was hoping for a couple of thousand downloads and maybe three or four mentions from bloggers,” he says. He didn’t have to wait very long.

Viral traffic got news of the book out to a few bloggers, who posted links. Downloads jumped immediately to over 1,000 a day. Then marketing guru Seth Godin posted a link on his blog, praising Scott’s ideas. So did PR super-blogger Steve Rubel, only Rubel was critical of the proposal. It didn’t matter. Traffic skyrocketed.

Between January 19 and 22, more than 15,000 people downloaded the e-book. The blogosphere was swarming. Dozens of bloggers were now commenting on and linking to Scott’s book. The media picked up on the thread. The Toronto Globe and Mail called. Then the Associated Press and Reuters. The Marketing Profs website asked for a bylined article, then an online seminar. Speaking invitations started coming in.

Six months after publication of New Rules, the e-book had been downloaded more than 75,000 times. A Google search on “new rules of PR,” which had returned only one result in January, 2006, yielded 42,000 hits. Scott was under contract with Wiley to turn the e-book into a bound book. And his business was increasingly about advising clients on how to rethink their press releases.

Drinking the Kool-Aid
No profession stands to influence social media more than public relations. And while most corporate marketers remain leery of the new frontier, some PR people are diving in with bold viral marketing campaigns and using the tools of social media to advance their own businesses. David Meerman Scott’s success was almost accidental, though he worked the basics very well. But as marketers come to understand the fundamentals of social media marketing, they’re turning the new forum to their clients’ advantage and to their own.

PR people intuitively understand the value of relationship marketing, with social media simply being another way to build relationships. PR pros have flocked to social media because it plays so naturally to their strengths as relationship managers. PR has long been the neglected stepchild of corporate marketing departments hooked on lead generation and advertising metrics. Social media is its turn to shine.

“The irony of the New PR is that it’s not anything new, it’s just the industry adapting to new forms of communications – which is something that our industry has always been able to do,” wrote Jeremy Pepper, a prominent PR blogger, in a Global PR Blog Week article in late 2005. “PR firms out there do get it, there is an understanding of blogs, and an understanding that PR needs to be involved with blogs – whether tracking, pitching or blogging.”

There are hundreds of PR blogs and quite a few compelling podcasts. Blogger Constantin Basturea maintains a list of PR bloggers that numbered more than 500 by mid-2006. It includes writers from 29 countries and is growing by about 100 listings every six months.

In late 2004, Basturea started the New PR Wiki, an exhaustive resource of interviews, articles, blogs and discussions devoted to the evolution of public relations. It now has more than 60 contributors. There’s also a conference, Global PR Blog Week.

PR professionals see social media as both an opportunity and a threat. The opportunity is to raise the profession’s visibility at a time when market trends are clearly headed their way. The threat is that no one really knows how to deal with all these new influencers.

Consider how complex the public relations profession has become. In 1990, the number of media outlets that were important to any given business probably numbered in the double digits. If you got a hit in the Wall Street Journal, you could take the rest of the month off.

By the late nineties, the Internet had perhaps doubled the size of that list to include a number of special interest websites and a few new syndication services.

Social media has completely disrupted this model. With mainstream media losing readers, listeners and viewers, the growth areas have shifted to special-interest electronic media, including cable channels, satellite radio, and personal blogs. Some product categories, such as consumer electronics, support literally hundreds of bloggers.

Not only has the list of influencers grown, but the dynamics by which they are influenced has changed. In the old days, a company got media coverage by courting a reporter. Today, a news story in a major newspaper may begin as a blog discussion or a viral e-mail thread that takes on a life of its own.

Corporate and agency PR professionals are scrambling to get out in front of this trend and leaders in their field are trying to show the way. So far, it’s largely been a matter of the blind leading the blind. But patterns are emerging that are spawning new companies and taking existing firms in new directions.

Podcast Innovators

If you haven’t fired up your digital music player and tuned in to a podcast lately, it’s time to familiarize yourself with this technology. Because podcasting is going to be very big very soon and marketers should understand the phenomenon and its potential.

You can find a good definition of podcasting at and my column in February’s BtoB Magazine introduces the topic. So I won’t go into a detailed explanation here. There are some very innovative applications of podcasting I’ve seen recently that marketers should become familiar with. This is a story of two of them.

General Motors launched a podcasting initiative about a year ago to complement its GM FastLane Blogs. Most people don’t think of GM as an early adopter but the company has been fast and innovative in experimenting with community media.

Maybe that’s because it’s put much of the responsibility in the hands of one person and let him go to work. Michael Wiley, director of new media and a longtime public relations professional, said the decision to launch blogs two years ago and podcasts in 2005 took less than a day. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz loved the idea and has been an active contributor to both forums.

The podcasts have been a home run for GM at very low cost. They spotlight different vehicles, often in conjunctions with re-designs or launches, and usually interview executives who are responsible for them. The short segments are nothing flashy, but they’re clean, well-paced and informative.

“You need to have a strong ethical policy and write in a clear, conversational style,” Wiley says of GM’s blogging efforts. “No one wants to read marketing copy or press release type writing.”

And do they perform. Last summer’s podcast interview with Corvette chief architect Dave Hill was downloaded more than 70,000 times. Some FastLane blog entries get more than 500 comments. Market research like that would cost a fortune. GM’s cost? “We’ve never spent a dollar on a podcast,” Wiley says. In fact, GM isn’t spending on promotion, either. “We want [the podcasts] to stay grass roots and for people to find out through word of mouth,” he says.

What’s got some people at GM really excited about podcasting, though, is its potential inside the firewall. The company has a vast network of dealers, service outlets and suppliers and all of them need constant communication. Distributing catalogs and videotapes is expensive and wasteful. Digital distribution is so much more efficient.

“It’s low- to no-cost,” Wiley says. “It’s an opportunity to give people extreme detail, if necessary. It can be used for so many different things – tutorials, help desk, service professionals. The opportunities are unlimited.”

And wait till Apple’s rumored new full-sized video iPod comes out. Bye-bye VHS tapes.

Over at Whirlpool USA, the appliance maker launched a podcast series last summer that embodies the spirit of social media. The Whirlpool American Family podcasts are updated about once a week.

There’s nothing about home appliances in these programs. They’re about child-rearing, schooling, health, work/family issues, nutrition and a host of other family concerns. They’re the brainchild of Audrey Reed-Granger, a Whirlpool publicist who admits that she didn’t even know what a podcast was until a few weeks before she suggested the idea to Whirlpool management.

“I listened to a few podcasts and it struck me that this was the reason I got into journalism,” she says. “It was very earnest, just average people reporting on things that go on in normal life. I wanted to capture that.”

Her bosses liked the idea and the nominal cost. The first podcast launched in late July. By September, the online buzz became apparent.

“There was a lot of blogosphere chatter about Whirlpool,” Reed-Granger says. “We figured out that it was about American Family. People were endorsing the podcasts in their blogs and other bloggers were tuning in. I started getting e-mail from people suggesting speakers.”

What started as interviews with friends and contacts has become a mainstream radio program. Book publishers and PR agencies pitch their clients as guests on American Family Podcasts. Whirlpool had logged more than 30,000 downloads when I spoke to Reed-Granger in January but the series is also carried on more than a dozen independent podcast sites that don’t release statistics.

The benefit to Whirlpool? It’s hard to say. Both GM’s Wiley and Whirlpool’s Reed-Granger acknowledge that ROI is a tough call in the blogosphere. You have to think about these media experiments as a branding play, like public relations.

“It gave us a fresh image,” Wiley said. “It’s humanized us.”

Adds Reed-Granger, “It’s less about the brand than the essence of the people that market the products. It’s made us more likeable.”

Both podcast series deliver the goods on usefulness. GM’s is the more marketing-oriented of the two efforts, but it’s essentially an information play to enthusiasts. Whirlpool doesn’t even pretend to pitch its products in the audio program. It’s strictly a valuable information service to potential purchasers of its appliances. This is what social media marketing is all about. You need to be transparent, honest and helpful.

In a future issue, I’ll look at some of my favorite podcasts and talk about best practices for content producers.

Tips for Winning Webcasts

Almost anything you can do in a white paper you can do in a webcast (“webinar,” by the way, is a trademarked term). So why choose the multimedia approach?

One reason is speed. If you have a speaker and a presentation, a webcast gets your message online with a minimum of pre-production work. Be aware, though, that publishers are more inventory-constrained with webcasts and your waiting time could be months. Another reason is speaker quality. If you have a great speaker, whether your own employee or an outsider, a webcast can deliver a provocative forum for your message. A third is audience interaction. Live webcasts can create a real-time dialog with the audience that you can’t get in any other online medium. Finally, webcasts let you work with complex formats like panel discussions or Q&A interviews that don’t work in print.

But there are tradeoffs. The biggest is audience engagement. Because a webcast requires your audience to invest a significant amount of time in front of the computer, you risk reaching a smaller audience.  Podcasting offers a possible solution to this problem, but I’ll deal with that in a separate newsletter. Webcasts may also be more costly. It’s also harder to repurpose a webcast created in a proprietary format for use with another partner’s service. If you want maximum flexibility, check to be sure your program can be delivered over a standard media player like Real Player.

If you’ve decided to go the webcast route, here are a few factors to consider in making your event a success:

Write for the medium – A webcast is a direct-access experience, meaning that you have little flexibility for tangents, sidebars and appendices. Choose a topic that can be address serially from beginning to end. A repurposed conference presentation or training seminar is a good choice. Provide an agenda at the front end and stick to it. Break your presentation up into digestible segments and indicate clearly when you’re transitioning from one topic to another. Remember that your audience may tune out or become distracted at times. You want them to be able to return to your presentation without losing their place.

Choose a good speaker – You’ll want someone with a clear, deliberate cadence and an engaging style. Stammers, pauses and mumbles will undermine your message. Remember that your smartest technical people aren’t necessarily your best speakers. If you’re inviting listener questions or comments, choose a speaker who’s fast on his or her feet. It can be time-consuming and expensive to go back and edit a presentation later.

Keep it brief – People have about a half-hour attention span for an online event. If you’re going to go much over that, be aware that you will lose listeners. If you’ve bought a full hour of speaking time, break up your presentation into segments that will re-engage the listeners. For example, go to questions, launch an instant poll or bring in a second speaker for a discussion.

Keep slides readable – I always recommend using a lot of visuals because they keep the audience engaged and provide structure and pacing for your speaker. But be aware that your audience may not have the full screen available to look at your slides. Spread your visuals across more slides, if possible, and use fonts and images that won’t make your viewers squint. Large images can take a long time to load and may cause the audio to break up on slow connections.

Take advantage of interactive features – If your service provider offers the option of interactive questions/comments from your audience or real-time polling, take advantage of it. It’s a great way to get feedback on the spot and learn something about your audience’s interests. Be aware, though, that live events offer less margin for error and tighter scheduling options. Also, not every event lends itself to interactivity. A technical topic oriented toward developers usually generates better interaction than a market overview or other general topic.

Make slides available for download – Your listeners should have the option of reviewing and sharing your visuals. It’s a great way to generate follow-up inquiries and some media partners can give you a registration form that generates leads from slide downloads. If you’re concerned about intellectual property, use PowerPoint’s non-editable .pps format.

Some media partners offer you a turnkey option to create a printed version of your presentation. This can be a great way to generate leads by offering content as a white paper for hosting on your site or elsewhere.

A few words on video: With nearly 90% of business Internet users now using high-speed connections, video is an attractive webcast option. However, it’s generally much more expensive, requires travel and can introduce scheduling complexities. For industry giant companies, video can be a way to enhance their upscale image. And there are some things you can do with video that you can’t with a simple audio format. However, I think for most companies video is an expensive indulgence.

10 Questions to Ask About Your Blogging Strategy

Flash back to 1996. The Worldwide Web was a cauldron of activity. Businesses were rushing to get online. Most business managers weren’t asking why they needed a website; they just wanted one as quickly as possible. Millions of dollars were squandered on sites that were impossible to find or hard to use.

Fast forward to 2006. Social media is the rage. Business magazines say blog or be roadkill. Businesses want a stake in the blogosphere, even if they don’t know why.

Blogging can be a valuable channel to your customers and prospects, a key part of your public relations strategy, a market research tool and a launching pad for new products. But there are many ways to blog. Know what you want to achieve and how to get there.

Here are 10 questions you should ask before you even post your first blog entry.

  1. What’s the business objective? You’ll invest time and money to build a blog presence. What are your business goals? Awareness? Revenue? Leads? Leadership? Know where you’re going before you start the trip.
  2. Who’s the audience? There are plenty of potential readers out there and chances are you don’t care about reaching 99% of them. Social media is about focused communities and groups don’t need to be large to be important. Before you begin, know who your target audience is and how to reach it. Create a strategy for building affinity and let that define your online presence.
  3. What are you going to tell them? Spewing marketing messages won’t work. The only way to make your blog distinctive is to give readers useful information that they can’t find anywhere else.
  4. Who’s going to do the talking? Blogging is about personalities. So who will you put online? The CEO? VP of Engineering? Product Managers? Your company’s message will be defined by the people who speak on your behalf. Choose them wisely.
  5. What is your voice? It’s not just what you say, it’s also how you say it. Are you going to be friendly and engaging or formal and authoritative? How will your blog voice mesh with your corporate voice? What does your blog say about what kind of person or organization you are?
  6. How will you deliver your message? Short and punchy or thoughtful and reflective? Are you going to tell people what’s right or invite them to comment? How will you use humor, drama, irony, story-telling, metaphor, example, exaggeration, foreboding and other tools? Any approach can work if you know how to apply it.
  7. How will you get readers? Posting a blog is no more effective than building a website if you don’t know what to do with it. With 30 million blogs out there, why should anyone come to yours? There are simple, inexpensive steps you can take to dramatically improve your visibility. But most people don’t know what they are.
  8. What will you do with responses?Do you want all your readers to tell you what they think or would you rather filter comments? How do you effectively invite people to talk back to you? What do you do when the feedback loop gets out of hand and creates a blog swarm? Gaining an audience in the blogosphere may be your greatest objective but it could be your worst nightmare if you don’t know how to manage it.
  9. How will you measure success? If all you want to do is build awareness for your company, you may be happy just to count traffic and links. If you’re trying to generate revenue, then your choice of ad programs is important. Or maybe you want to use your blog as a base for your PR efforts or to research your audience. There are many potential benefits to blogging but they require different approaches to the task.
  10. What’s the next step? Once you’ve got regular visitors and steady traffic, you’ll want to consider expanding your franchise. Should you launch another blog? Start a website? Write a magazine column? Launch a podcast? Write a book? There are lots of ways to build a successful blog into a franchise, but you need to know the tradeoffs of each.

You can figure out the answers to these questions yourself through trial and error. Or you can save time and money by getting expert advice. Experts can help shortcut these questions by showing you what’s working in the field today. Blogging can be a great addition to your marketing and PR strategy or a time sink. How you prepare will make a big difference.

How the Coming Newspaper Industry Collapse Will Reinvent Journalism

The near-total collapse of the American newspaper industry as we know it is inevitable. Anything newspapers could have done to stop it should have been done years ago. (Slate recently wrote that newspapers saw this coming in the mid-’70s.) All the social, demographic and economic trends are lined up against the industry. Over the next decade, there will be agonizing rounds of layoffs, consolidation and bankruptcies. It will be painful to watch, but it will be a necessary process for the industry to reinvent itself.

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In this essay, I’ll outline the reasons I believe this and propose a new and very different model of publishing and journalism that will take hold as this cycle plays out. This will be a very exciting evolution, but it will be very painful, too.

A broken business model
First, some background and assumptions. The business model of metropolitan daily newspapers was developed over 150 years ago to support a delivery method that is becoming irrelevant. Huge staffs of people were needed to create content, turn it into type, print it on paper and distribute it on a timely basis. It was very expensive, but it was necessary because there was no alternative way to deliver information on a daily basis.

Large editorial staffs were needed to create proprietary content. A few alternate sources of content were available, such as news wires, but there was almost nothing at the local level. In any case, running wire copy didn’t differentiate a newspaper from its competition, so staffs of salaried reporters were needed to turn up original news. At some newspapers, these staffs could run to several hundred people.

Newspapers had to maintain large circulation operations and massive subscriber lists in order to justify their ad rates. Circulation is expensive. While renewal rates for daily papers have always been high, it’s costly to acquire new subscribers through advertising and direct mail. For most papers, the cost of circulation didn’t come close to matching the small revenue it generated. Circulation revenue at newspapers has also been falling in recent years due to price cuts and competition, further squeezing margins.

Capital costs inherent in buildings, presses, paper, ink and people to run all those machines were astronomical. Labor unions added to those costs. In some cases, the unions have succeeded in preserving jobs that were automated out of existence years ago. People go to work and literally have nothing to do.
Add it all up and a metropolitan daily newspaper must employ several hundred people to produce the product. Newspaper advertising is very expensive because of the large fixed costs. The Chicago Tribune, for example, charges $755 per column inch in the daily paper ($1,135 on Sunday). That business works as long as advertisers are willing to pay for it and for many years they have. That’s because newspapers were one of the most effective means for businesses to reach consumers in certain geographies.

The upside, though, is that newspaper model has traditionally been profitable and predictable. Once a newspaper achieved dominance in its market, it was practically unassailable. As consolidation reduced the total number of daily newspapers (there are about 1,500 in the U.S. today), competitive pressure eased and the winning papers were able to drive their ad rates higher. Until the mid-1990s, this was a pretty nice state of affairs. Even the Internet didn’t put much pressure on newspapers, at least during its first decade.

That is all about to come to an end. The business model of metropolitan daily newspapers is poised for a collapse that will be stunning in its speed and scope. The cause is Web 2.0 and the vastly superior economics of that emerging business.

A new approach
A recent story in Business 2.0 magazine revealed the income of some popular bloggers. Read this article if you want to understand the emerging economics of blogosphere. This new medium is far more cost-efficient than the ones it will replace.

“Blogs today benefit from what might be termed uneconomies of scale,” the Business 2.0 article says. “They are so cheap to create and operate that a lone blogger or a small team can, with the ever-expanding reach of the Internet, amass vast audiences and generate levels of profit on a per-employee basis that traditional media companies can only fantasize about.”

Take the example. The site generates 40 million page views a month with a staff of one full-time person and two contractors. Its only real operating costs are bandwidth charges. It produces almost no original content and has no capital costs. Members contribute their own content, so no editors are needed. The site almost runs itself. Yet this could approach $10 million in revenue before long.

Another example is It’s is the fifth most popular site on the Internet, with global reach and an estimated four billion page views a month. It is absolutely killing the newspaper classified ad business. One study report estimated that Craigslist costs San Francisco newspapers $50 million in revenue each year. The entire staff is 23 people, all part-time. Google Blogoscoped, which is the best independent source of information about Google, is run by one person in his spare time. It’s averaging four million page views a month. Gizmodo grew to become one of the top five blogs on the Internet with only a single contributor., which is barely two years old, is already among the top 25 sites on the Web. Its traffic outstrips all the largest media sites. It has a staff of 15. <!–[if !vml]–>

Outsourcing everything
None of these sites is making piles of money yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Michael Arrington is pulling in $60,000 a month writing TechCrunch. is on target to gross more than $1 million. founder Drew Curtis says he’s on track to soon log sales of $600,000 to $800,000 per month.

Companies like John Battelle’s Federated Media and Nick Denton’s Gawker Media are figuring out the business side. And it’s not like these blogs have to make a lot of money to keep going. generates over $100,000 a year in advertising and that’s plenty to keep Steve Hall plugging away at his one-man operation. He’s got almost no costs and he’s getting paid to do something he’s passionate about.

How do these keep their overhead so low? They outsource everything.

  • Editorial content is outsourced to an army of individual enthusiasts and bloggers who find interesting information on the Web and feed it to the site operators. Editorial expenses, which account for about a third of the operating costs of a daily newspaper, are practically zero.
  • Circulation is outsourced to Google and links from other sites. In fact, there really is no concept of circulation in these new media because there’s no way to “own” the reader. This is a very different model from conventional publishing, which relies heavily on subscriber lists to validate advertising rates. The Web approach is much less controllable but also much cheaper.

  • Production is outsourced to Typepad, Blogger or any number of other hosted services at minimal cost. There’s no need for designers because everything is templated. Some sites practically run themselves. Bandwidth costs can be steep for popular properties, but that’s true for newspaper Web sites as well.
  • Sales is outsourced to Google Adwords, Federated Media or other sales agents. This may change in time, but for now, most Web 2.0 companies can’t be bothered with a captive sales force.

Marketing and promotion aren’t even done. In the new Web, your marketing is your content. People either link to you or they don’t. This creates a lot of pressure on the site operators to be fresh and innovative, but that’s not a bad thing.

This model is so compelling that it will almost completely upend the existing mainstream media model.
Newspaper death spiral
New competition from Web 2.0 companies along with continuing demographic shifts are about to send metropolitan daily newspapers into a spiral of decline from which few will emerge intact. Why now? People have been wrongly forecasting the death of newspapers for years. Why is this time different?
The first decade of the consumer Internet was very different from that which we’re now entering. Web 1.0 was the display Internet. It was a decade when organizations put their brochures online and users got comfortable with the idea of a global network. Search tools were rudimentary, Web content was difficult to create and interactivity was limited. The brands that dominated the pre-Web days were able to extend their brands online. While a few important new sources of information did emerge, media giants like CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Associated Press continued to dominate online media. There was little threat to their underlying businesses.

That’s all changed. It’s now easy for individuals to create Web content. Computing power, storage and bandwidth costs are declining rapidly. The open-source software movement has dropped the price of software to near zero. Search engines have become a more effective marketing channel than e-mail. Google AdSense and affiliate marketing networks can generate income for Web site operators, even at low traffic levels. Today, a small group of people with a few thousand dollars and a good idea can build a self-sustaining Web franchise in a matter of months. You couldn’t have done that five years ago.

Layered on top of that is a demographic shift that is about to move a large new group of Web-savvy consumers into the economic mainstream. This new generation simply doesn’t have the loyalty to established media that their parents do. And they don’t read newspapers at all.

The spiral begins

So here’s where the spiral begins. Newspapers’ profitable classified advertising business will be all but gone in 10 years, a victim of the vastly superior results and economics of search-driven online advertising. Display advertising will be under intense pressure from alternative media, including not just Web sites but an emerging class of small print publications and supermarket advertisers that serve local audiences (print publishing is getting cheaper, too). The department stores and cell phone companies that sustain newspapers’ display advertising business will apply intense pressure on papers to bring down their prices

Newspapers will be forced to lay off staff in order to maintain margins. Cuts in services will lead to cuts in editorial coverage, making papers less relevant to subscribers. As circulation declines, advertising rates will have to come down to remain competitive. This will put more pressure on margins, leading to more layoffs, more cost cuts, more circulation declines and more pressure on margins. Once this spiral begins, it will accelerate with breathtaking speed. And it has already begun.

Experience has shown us again and again that business models based on vertically integrated, proprietary products quickly collapse when confronted with competition that is open, standardized and much less expensive. It’s happened in consumer electronics, telecommunications, computers and household appliances and there’s no reason it won’t happen in media. Advertisers will rebel at having to pay newspapers’ high fixed costs when they can get the same audience through other channels at a fraction of the cost.

History has also demonstrated that business models based on scarcity collapse in the face of abundance. The whole newspaper model is predicated on the idea that timely, local information is hard to come by. Newspapers built very expensive infrastructures to deliver that information in the days of print. But information is now cheap and abundant. As the body of information grows and people become more comfortable with the tools to access it, the newspaper value proposition withers away.

The sole advantage that newspapers still have is their reach in local markets. Small businesses that sell aluminum siding, flowers and cleaning services have few alternatives to newspapers for their ad dollars. But that, too, is changing. The declining cost of electronic composition and offset printing is leading to a resurgence of local newspapers, and Web 2.0 technology is making it cheap for citizens to launch their own community Web sites. Search engine makers are figuring out how to provide value in local search. These forces are converging to attack newspapers’ last refuge.

In 10 years, probably a third of metropolitan daily print newspapers will be gone. Some will go entirely online, while others will merge with regional competitors. What will replace them? And what will the new journalism look like?


What emerges from the rubble of the newspaper industry will be a fresh, vibrant and very different kind of journalism. It will make a lot of traditionalists uncomfortable. It will force us to re-examine our assumptions about everything from readership to libel law. But it will ultimately be an evolution of the profession into something that is richer, more inclusive and much more dynamic than anything we have ever known.
Print newspapers are modeled on assumptions that were defined by physical constraints, but which are outmoded and irrelevant online. Basically, information is scarce and publishing is archival. In most metropolitan areas, the newspaper has been the principal or only source of news for many years. This required editors and publishers to take a very serious view of everything they set into type. Layout, headline selection, story lengths, story placement and design were critical considerations in a space-constrained world. The importance of a story was reflected by its location in the paper or on a page, the weight of the headline and the number of column inches dedicated to it.
Once a story was in print, it was permanent. This necessitated an almost obsessive attention to detail and fact-checking. All facts had to be assembled before the story was written. Often, multiple editors were assigned to review and challenge information in the article. If information wasn’t verified, it wasn’t published.
Structure was critical. Because stories were cut from the bottom, newspapers invented the “inverted pyramid” style of writing, in which more important information was placed higher in the story. Good information was omitted because there wasn’t enough space.

Online publishing changes all the rules
Of course, all that is irrelevant online, and the new journalism will be based on an entirely different set of assumptions. Any report may be quickly and easily updated and corrected. Search engine results and referral links are the principal drivers of readership. Layout is almost irrelevant to a Web site. Blogs have no hierarchy at all. Stories can be as long or as short as they need to be, or can even be composed of many links to other content. Stories may appear in many places at once and even in many forms, depending on how they are tagged. Readers are able to comment upon and contribute to articles. Graphics, audio and video illustrations are easily linked to text. If something is wrong, you can always go back and correct it.

In short, the online world challenges nearly every assumption of conventional newspapering. It will dictate a very different approach to journalism.

For one thing, the craft of journalism will evolve to include far more aggregation and organization than it has in the past. Editors will assemble their reports from a vast library of resources located across the Internet. Some information will come from paid staff writers, others from freelancers and still more from reports and opinions published by independent third parties and even competitors. Editors will still have a critical role, but their value will increasingly be in assembling and organizing information for readers who don’t have the time to sort through the vast Web.

The craft of reporting will become faster and more iterative. Rumor, speculation and incomplete information will be published far more readily, on the assumption that errors can be corrected. Stories will, in essence, be built in real time and in full public view. Reporters will file copy directly to the Web, often without a review by an editor. Readers will be a central part of the process, correcting and commenting upon articles as they are taking shape. Reporting will become, in effect, a community process.

This new model will be very disruptive and very controversial. The idea that a news organization would publish information it did not know to be true flies in the face of all of our expectations. The concept of actively involving readers — who have no formal relationship with the news organization –- in the reporting process will be too much for some editors to accept. There will be hand-wringing over fears of libel suits and other litigation. It is going to be an unholy brawl.

But this is where journalism will go, and it is happening now, every day, on blogs and community media sites across the world. There, authors knowingly publish information that is unverified and unreliable. They do so with the expectation that their readers will set them straight and that the truth will be arrived at through a process of publishing and correction. More than half a million blog posts are logged every day, yet there has not been a single successful libel suit resulting from any of them. Libel law, after all, is based on the expectation of archival permanence. Nothing is permanent online.

The future is taking shape

New models are already being tested at community-journalism sites like Backfence,, Northwest Voice and Korea’s The Washington Post recently reported on a Gannett experiment to reinvent news journalism in Fort Myers, Fla. More will follow. Many more.

Journalism will become much more local. As the cost of publishing falls to near zero and citizens become more comfortable with the tools of publishing, thousands of mini “newspapers” will form around different geographies and topics. Aggregation sites will emerge to sift through and organize the reports and conversations going on in these small communities. Many of these sites will involve human editors who understand the needs of their audience and monitor online activity on their behalf.

This will be nothing less than a complete rebirth of journalism around the concept that information is plentiful and cheap. Instead of 1,500 print newspapers, there will be perhaps five to 10 national “super-papers” and many thousands of regional and special interest community news sites. The process of getting there will be wrenching and controversial, but the new model will create a more dynamic and diverse information landscape than we have ever known. It will be incredibly exciting. I hope to be around for the ride.