Sunday, March 15, 2009

A New Home: Bernaisesource.com/blog

Finally, I have graduated to WordPress and to an RSS feed that works. The new home for Bernaise Source is http://bernaisesource.com/blog. Thank you for your continued readership. As always, I welcome your feedback. 


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Friday, March 13, 2009

Reality Check in the Southeast VC Community


Yesterday, at the third annual
Southeast Venture Conference in Atlanta, the opening keynote speaker Tim Draper, managing director of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, asked the more than 700 attendees “What revolution are we creating?”

Thanks to Eric Gregg SEVC director for the comp ticket.  I am accustomed these days to the more casual atmosphere of SoCon09 and Startup Riot where entrepreneurs are all wearing jeans and online using Twitter.

That was not he case yesterday.  I took out my suit, put on a tie and observed capitalism in action where handshakes and personal relationships still matter.  Deals, not laptops, were on people’s minds.

Among the keynotes and company presentations, I was encouraged by the optimism even if there was no escaping the tough economic reality we currently face. Times like these require adaptation.

John Yates the partner-in-charge of the technology group at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP brought the point home when he asked members of the panel to compare 2008 and 2009.   Today, one VC sees fewer business plans focused on widgets, and another was witnessing a flight to quality and observed that people are looking for the long haul.

Few companies presenting on the first day focused on the social web, but all were technology driven.  One presentation that I missed was LivingSocial - a social network that allows people to review and “share their favorite movies, books, games, music, restaurants and beer” and integrates with Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, hi5, and Orkut.

While few in the audience seemed to support a stimulus package, Draper ever the optimist viewed the current situation as a perfect opportunity for companies with vision and a solid business plan. It just is going to take longer.

“This is the best time ever to start a company.”  Draper said, reminding the crowd that many of the largest and most successful companies started in rough times including GE, Chevron, Westinghouse, Microsoft, Adobe, Skype, and Johnson and Johnson. See Tech Journal South article.

“Entrepreneurs, this is your time. This your moment, go out and do something.”

These days that sounds revolutionary enough.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Social Media Lessons: The Delta Northwest Airlines Merger


These days you are more likely to read about bankruptcies than M&A activity, but Delta’s merger with Northwest Airlines last fall is an interesting case study for marketing and PR professionals responsible for social media integration.

Social media can help with the transition, but it can also add another layer of challenges if each company has a pronounced social media strategy.  I have long maintained that successful social media efforts must reflect a company’s corporate DNA. A merger can change all that.  A botched social media integration strategy can undo years of hard work.

So how do you preserve a company’s authentic voice when you are combining two different employee cultures, two different customer bases and two different sets of social media practices?  In any corporate merger or acquisition, the name of the game is “seamless transitions.”

Social Media Lessons:  Learning from Delta

According the Katie Mingo, using social media to integrate Delta Airlines and Northwest Airlines was a top priority.  Katie is in charge of content optimization and interactive marketing at Delta.   You may have seen her bookend Delta’s inflight safety video.

Corporate blogs: You essentially have three choices when each company has a corporate blog (as opposed to brand blogs) – kill one, keep two going separately or merge them. 

Killing one is clearly the quickest solution, but perhaps unnecessarily drastic. In creating a combined company, it’s important to foster good will by courting employees and customers alike.  Blogs can help by going beyond the news and providing insights into people making the changes. The logical solution is to repurpose content and link to each other’s blogs.  Over time, two blogs will organically become one as the content increasingly overlaps.

Fortunately for Delta, this was not an issue; Northwest did not have a strong presence.  But Delta did use its blog Under the Wing as a platform to “make employees feel more welcome and help customers with the transition.”   Believing that is always better to show than tell, the blog essentially replaced what would have been a static list of FAQs.


When the merger closed in late October, Delta used its blog along with ongoing internal and external communications to recognize Northwest’s culture, history and employees.  The kickoff posting featured a vintage Northwest timetable.  Subsequent postings focused on integration including several about Delta and Northwest employees helping with a Habitat for Humanity project in Brazil.

Open vs Closed, Centralized vs Decentralized Communications: Some corporate cultures are top down and buttoned up.  Others are more open and give individual managers more discretion to make communication decisions.  As a former vice president of corporate the latter scared the hell out of me, but I recognize that a degree of independence is essential for social media to work.

At Delta, corporate communicates vet all blog posts as they would news releases and other communications.   Mingo noted that Northwest employees generally had another layer of approval, which impacted the communication process.

So what happens when open and closed cultures combine?  Of course the acquiring company’s culture wins, but here again social media adds a layer to consider in the transition process.  Employees need to adjust to how information is communicated.   For a more centralized company, a merger can also be an opportunity to experiment with social media – especially if it proved effective at one of the merging companies.  Social media tools like wikis and employee forums can also be useful to foster engagement, collaboration and greater familiarity.

Amplifying Traditional Media: Lastly the marriage of mergers and social media can help amplify traditional media. Beyond blogs, Delta’s social media strategy includes Flickr and YouTube.

One video of Northwest Airlines being repainted with the Delta logo and colors went viral leading to 100,000 views.  The video caught the attention of The Learning Channel. The program Busted Knuckles did a special on how to change brakes on an airplane.  The producers followed an aircraft maintenance technician around.  Social media was involved in the promotional phase.

Having been involved in many mergers over the years, I understand the tension that combining cultures and resources can create.  Social media should be a required part of the process.  Like any use of social media, success rests on maintaining authenticity and respecting your targeted audiences.  

Let me get back to you.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Contrast in Innovation



Yesterday was a day of contrasts -  It began at Technology Association of Georgia’s (TAG) Technology Summit — thanks to Patrick Gaul who had an extra seat at his blogger’s table. 


I was joined by fellow bloggers David Cohen Amani Channel Sherry Heyl, Justin Rubner, and Lance Weatherby.  Though to be honest Twitter seemed to be the platform of choice.

Hundreds of members from Georgia’s business establishment were on hand to honor some of the state’s most innovative technology companies the honorees.

Among TAG’s 2009 Top 10:

CCP Games North America –  a gaming company, creators of Eve and part of Georgia’s gaming future.

PlayOn Sports! – digital media company that allows fans to watch untelevised, high quality local community content.

Asankya  – creators of a cloud application acceleration service. 

NanoLumens – makers of digital screens that can be contoured in any shape and size.

New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman was the featured speaker.  One of his biggest applause lines was when he told the crowd he was for startups, not bailouts.


Shotput Venture’s Open House

This evening I attended Shotput Venture’s open house to kick off their efforts to find the next generation of web entrepreneurs.  The organizers expected 75 attendees; 200 showed up and a third were Georgia Tech undergrads. 

One such student Andre Nasri is developing a iPhone application after working with fellow students on an automated login system.

The scale of this venue was less grand, but the goals were no less great:  to discover promising startups and help build Georgia’s technology future.

Good economic news is in short supply these days, but across Atlanta there seems to be no absence of innovation.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Filling PR Needs in The Pothole Economy

Jeremiah Owyang’s posting on PR Firms in a Recession: A 2009 Forecast confirms what I have been suspecting as of late:  we have the entered the Pothole Economy.

It is indeed tough out there.  According to a USC School of Communication survey, PR budgets are down, and layoffs are up. 

What’s a Pothole Economy?

When times are flush, marketing and PR departments talk vision and spend money on corporate offsites.  When times are bad (the economy shrunk 6.2 percent in the last quarter of 2009), you focus on short-term needs. You look for inexpensive solutions. You fill in potholes not build whole new roads.

It’s ironic.  Now is the time when strategy is most needed and vision is at a premium, but we can ill afford deep thinkers.  People are hungry for information, but there are no budgets for training. And so the uninitiated use the recession as an excuse to ignore social media, but they do so at their own peril. 

I agree with Jeremiah: “If you’ve not developed social media skills by now in 2009, you are behind.”

Who will succeed in the Pothole Economy?  On the road to success, I am finding these days that it’s not the mapmakers or surveyors.  Rather it’s those who can actually do the grunt work.  In other words, strategists get in line.  It’s the people who can build blogs, optimize search and produce podcasts that are getting the jobs.  They are the ones who deliver immediate value.

And to management’s role in these challenging times, Jeremiah’s right; it needs “to quickly adjust to offer more outputs for clients than ever before.”

For those lacking the requisite skills, it’s time to grab a shovel and fill in some holes in your experience.  Use this time to expand your knowledge.  It will enable you to position yourself for better times and ultimately make yourself more valuable.

Let me get back to you.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

From the Frontlines of Georgia’s Gaming Community


FNG Co Hosts Glen Martin (L) and Bobby Blackwolf

How can a few thousand dollars in equipment and software, Skype and an Internet connection help build a local gaming community with global reach? In the hands of Bobby Tamburrino aka Bobby Blackwolf, perhaps a great deal.

Bobby is the host and producer of Friday Night Gaming, a new weekly Internet TV show about video games.  Launched in January, it’s broadcast live from the Computer ArenA, a gaming center in suburban Atlanta.  

A software developer and systems administrator by day, Blackwolf believes his show is one of the only Internet TV programs broadcast from an actual gaming center. It’s a natural extension of his weekly podcast the Bobby Blackwolf Show, which airs on All Games. It’s also example of how a relatively low cost social media solution is transforming content distribution.

Friday’s show featured the debut of just released PlayStation®3’s Killzone 2. An “in studio” gamer got to demo it with others online.  In another popular segment, co-host Glen Martin (owner of CC Gaming) took apart and repaired a PlayStation2 console.  

Granted the Internet can be unpredictable, and there are always technical hiccups, but Blackwolf can produce and broadcast a live video program around the world. A live video feed is offered on the FNGLive website with streaming video via Ustream.tv and an audio-only simulcast is available on All Games Radio. The chatroom is on chat.allgames.com.

It’s essentially community access with a worldwide distribution. One caller on Friday was from Sweden.

Building Community

Friday Night Gaming is another example of how technology is helping to build Atlanta’s gaming community.  People come into Computer ArenA to observe and participate, call in or chat and play online. Last week they had over 300 viewers and had 150 chat room participants.

In time, Bobby hopes his broadcast will be a fixture in the community and a showcase for local talent and companies.  Previously, Atlanta-based Cartoon Network and its new game Fusion Fall was featured.  Well-known Georgia video game composer Chris Rickwood wrote the theme for the Friday Night Gaming.

So as the State of Georgia offers tax credits and local companies like Hi-Rez Studios launch new games, folks like Bobby Blackwolf along with the Georgia Games Developer Association at the community level are also trying to put Georgia on the map as a gaming hub.

The show airs live at 8PM Eastern/5PM Pacific on Friday nights, and will run around three hours.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

The CEO Project: How the Social Web is Changing Entrepreneurship

Startup Riot 2009

I was at Atlanta’s Startup Riot last week to test out an assumption I have about the social web’s impact on young entrepreneurs.  I am calling my quest the CEO project.

More than 60 startup companies were given 3 minutes to make their pitch to investors, entrepreneurs, job seekers and companies seeking M&A opportunties. The room was packed.

Jason Ardell of FeedScrub

Jason Ardell was with one of the companies that presented.  He graduated from Georgia Tech in 2005. His company Feedscrub (blog) filters your news feeds to deliver the most relevant posts.

So were CEOs Mathew Sweezey and Duncan Freemen. Matthew’s company MechanixLoop uses the web to address consumer frustration with auto repair, and Duncan’s company Band Metrics (blog) is working to create web analytics for the music industry.

The social web is integral to their businesses.  It’s lowering barriers to entry.  It’s making it possible to cost effectively offer whole new services and draft off popular products like the iPhone, social networks like Facebook and search engines like Google.  But the social web also is fostering a state of mind and a whole new way of approaching business relationships.

In my mind, successful young CEOs embody that mindset.  Living on and off the social web, they:

  • lack a fear of intimacy – They find sharing personal information on blogs and social networks like Facebook an asset in building business relationships.
  • embrace Informality – It’s not about wardrobe. They don’t stand on formal, closed relationships. They will reach out to anyone who will listen or can help.
  • understand asynchronous dialog – They gather information and make connections one to one or one to many.  They are comfortable with platforms like Twitter where strands of ideas are linked, mashed, shared and sampled in real and non real time.
  • collaborate – Yes they protect proprietary information and remain stealth until ready, but they are not afraid to collaborate and share the wealth.
Enter ShotPut Ventures


David Cummings hopes to fill this room

with young Startups

Take David Cummings. David knows a thing or two about young CEOs.  He is one and very successful as his panoramic view of Atlanta confirms. His company Hannon Hill Corporation provides strategic web content management solutions. 

He is part of a group of very successful CEOs (Jeff Hilimire, Allen Graber, Suleman Ali, Wayt King, Mitch Free, Sanjay Parekh, Dave Williams and Dave Wright) who recently formed Shotput Ventures (blog), a technology startup accelerator fund that focuses on CEOs of capital-light web services companies and assists in the conception phase.

They plan to invest $5,000 per team and $5,000 per founder as part of a coordinated program that will have eight companies in the summer of 2009 in Atlanta.

The founders of Shotput Ventures are not about retreating to personal islands after achieving success.  They are about inclusion, not exclusion, heterogeneity not homogeneity, merit not privilege.  They are about giving back to the community not perpetuating old boy networks.

Even their website reflects that crowdsourcing spirit.  The logo came from LogoBee and the site was from CrowdSPRING where they received bids and posting their project online.  Price tag: a little over $1,000.

Armed with the social web, a new generation of CEOs here in Atlanta is rejecting cubicle farms and corporate ladders.  Instead, they are bringing the Web’s open platform to the real world.   They are creating informal support systems, taking advantage of community building efforts like Startup Riot and Scott Burkett’s Capital Lounge and mentoring programs like Shotput Ventures.

Especially in an era of corporate downsizing, I anticipate a growing number of young people will attempt the entrepreneurship route.  While history indicates that most will fail, the social web is giving a new generation of CEOs a fighting chance to succeed.

Let me get back to you.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gaming and Hi-Tech: So Much in Common, So Little Overlap

Last night, I attended the Atlanta Game Development Meetup Group up Highway 400 in suburban North Atlanta at the Computer ArenA – an arcade for gamers. A handul of game developers and aspiring game developers were on hand — networking, sharing ideas, and helping build Atlanta’s gaming community.

I met Matt Schwartz, a content designer for FusionFall – Cartoon Network’s recently launched browser-based kids’ MMOG.  I also met Bobby Blackwolf, host of The Bobby Blackwolf Show- a weekly Internet radio and podcast discussing the latest news in video games. I also caught up with Clinton Lowe, president of the Georgia Game Developers Association and talked about the SIEGE conference.

Today I attend a different type of community - Startup Riot a forum for investors (institutional and corporate VCs and angels), entrepreneurs, individuals looking for startup jobs, and large companies looking for partnerships and/or M&A opportunities.  Hoping as I may, I would be very surprised if any gamers present — which is surprising given the growth in gaming opportunities and gaming’s increasing reliance on the social web.  UPDATE – I AM GLAD TO REPORT THAT TWO COMPANIES PRESENTED TODAY FROM THE GAMING WORLD — REINVENTED TECHNOLOGIES AND GOOD EGG STUDIOS/ELF ISLAND. IT’S A START.

In time, perhaps WE WILL SEE MORE PRESENTERS AND these two technology communities will commingle creating a much more vibrant Web community here in Atlanta.

Let me get back to you.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

State of the A.R.T – The Three Pillars of Blended Communication

I recently launched my website and to my relief, I have gotten some positive reactions on my approach to PR.  It’s based on a blend of Authenticity, Relationships and Technology.  Together they form the three pillars of successful state of the A.R.T. communication.

I confess a little self promotion here, but I welcome your feedback — good and bad.

State of the A.R.T. Communication

Authenticity. Whether it’s a formal press release or an informal blog posting, customers want “authenticity” when engaging with you. Finding your authentic voice requires an assessment of your company’s underlying culture, values and comfort level with genuine, decentralized conversations across multiple communications channels.

Relationships. PR is no longer just media relations. It’s building relationships with bloggers, existing and potential customers, vendors, partners, investors and employees who, in turn, can carry your message for you. It’s critical to do an inventory of their online “conversations” to measure their attitudes, level of influence and capacity for engagement.

Technology. The universe of tools and technologies keeps expanding. The difference between success and failure in reaching your targeted audience often depends on whether and when to use the tools of new or traditional media or both. Sometimes your outreach may require a simple press release and other times a blog or social network. Either way, it is essential to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the tools at your disposal.

With the aid of technology, we are better able to discover our authentic voice to build relationships and engage various stakeholders.  Pull that off and you have state of the A.R.T. communication.  I believe it is the job of PR professionals to help paint that picture. 

Let me get back to you.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Video Game Global Agenda Underscores Value of New Media


I have been kicking around the idea of going to the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco especially as I try to help raise the visibility for Georgia Game Developers Association and the SIEGE conference.  Gaming has gotten so big that it is difficult to ignore its impact on marketing.

To me gaming is social media on steroids.  It underscores the importance of community, word of mouth and fan culture in driving awareness and attracting subscribers.


Hi-Rez Studios Designers


That’s why Hi-Rez Studios caught my attention.  They are an independent gaming company here in North Atlanta trying to make it big with their massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Global Agenda.  Expected to go beta in the second quarter of this year, Global Agenda features a spy-fi world of advanced technology and player-driven conflict.   

The responsibility of marketing Global Agenda falls primarily in the hands of Public Relations Specialist Michal Adam and Vice President, Game Operations Stew Chisam.  Their task is not easy.  Success rates are low.  Development costs are high and so is the failure rate for most MMOs.

Once more, games like any form of entertainment are a tough sell. They must compete for people’s free time.  The challenge is to be a person’s first or perhaps second choice for fun.  But as Stew points out, “There is a heavy reward for being the best.”

So it’s interesting to see how they are using traditional and new media in their marketing strategy.

Traditional Media

Timing and Opportunities
Launching a new game is never easy.  It’s important to manage expectations. Hi-Rez Studios made the decision to stay under the radar for the first three years.

Getting reporters to write, post and link is hard enough — in Atlanta it’s even harder; we are not yet a gaming hub and have to work harder – kind of like Avis Car Rental.  Where I have generally found tech reporters wanting plenty of lead-time, Michal notes that game journalists tend to stay away from pitches that are too far out in front or release dates that are not yet determined.  That makes building buzz more difficult.  

Sometimes you need to be opportunistic like when Hi-Rez Studios offered to insert a local DJ’s voice and body into the game after learning the DJ from Q100 had made a New Year’s resolution to be in a video game.  The result – lots of air time and visibility outside the gaming community.

New Media

Traditional media has its limits.  That’s where new media and community building come in.

Fans Base
A Blessing and a Curse:  Effective gaming strategy needs fans to help establish a brand. They drive buzz. They are web savvy, loyal, and willingly spread the word for you.  They are also highly opinionated and won’t hesitate to criticize – openly and loudly. The same fans that make a game a mega hit, can also sink it.

Using fans to help disseminate is challenging; you want to keep up momentum and feed fan hunger for information. But you need to move slowly to avoid disappointment.

Recruitment
Start Small:  Hi-Rez Studios is currently running an Alpha test for about 1000 gamers.  Before going public they wanted to give a handful of gamers a chance to look under the hood.  They reached out to gamers that are part of Clans, engage in Lans parties and play similar games like Tabula Rasa.

But there is a fine line in engaging like-minded gamers.  It helps that gamers have affinity toward the game, but at the same time you open yourself to comparisons as this discussion on the MMORPG gaming news site shows.

Management and Rewards
Management over Support: A well-run community can support itself. It’s more about management not support.  As the community grows, it gets formalized.  There are do and don’ts, but the guiding principle for Hi-Rez Studios is “we are here to have fun; don’t spoil it.”  Since trash talking is part of the fun, they won’t police everything.  They want players to stay long enough to become part of the community.

Sustaining Interest: Recognition is huge.  Consequently, regular contests are held.  One winner got his face on a character.  Players can also win pieces of flair and rare accessories.   

Measurement
ROI: In a subscriber based game, the goal is determining lifetime value based on such metrics as cost per user, number of users sustained, and revenue per user.

Short and long term success: Short term success is understanding online behaviors such as how long and often members are online:  Long term success is growing a healthy community of the right size and level of satisfaction. 

Over the long haul, Hi-Rez Studios hopes to be more than a one hit wonder.  It will take 4-7 years to justify the cost. This is an important year, but it seems to me that beyond the game itself, the key to their success will be based on how well they sustain their community.  And the lessons from the gaming industry can clearly help non gamers with the care and feeding of their social networks.

Let me get back to you.

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