Jan 172013

I just realized how long it has been since I posted any photographs on here. I used to make an effort to post photos about once every week, but I’ve been a serious slacker. So here are a handful of photos from the past few months …

Leigh and I did a camping and biking trip to Cades Cove in the Smokies this fall. We rode the loop a few times, saw plenty of deer and – because of Leigh’s quick eye – two bears playing near a stream. We used mom and dad’s camper (a first for us) which made the cool nights much more enjoyable (our tent doesn’t have a heater). It felt good to finally be sitting by a campfire at night in the Great Smoky Mountains again. Been far too long.

The bears had their winter coats, so they didn’t look all mangy and gross like they do in the spring. And, apparently, the berry crop was decent this year (or the Cades Cove campers are leaving their food outside) because they looked very well-fed. At one point, a noise startled them and they took off running. I’ve always known bears are fast, but the speed with which they took off was surprising. Anyone who thinks they could outrun one has never seen a black bear in a full-out sprint.

We also hiked back to Abram’s Falls.

And saw this guy, too …

Dec 102012

Erik Ainge at University of Tennessee

Within minutes of the University of Tennessee’s announcement on Friday that Butch Jones had been named new head football coach for the Volunteers, Erik Ainge’s phone was ringing off the hook. Ainge, host of “The Erik Ainge Show” on Tennessee Sports Radio, has become the go-to guy for all things related to the Volunteer fan base – and he spent Friday afternoon doing television and radio interviews with national sports talk shows and sports reporters from all over the state of Tennessee.

A legendary Tennessee quarterback who later played for the NFL’s New York Jets, Ainge now has a devoted national following of passionate fans who tune in to his daily four-hour show. His entertaining, humorous, irreverent and always-accurate and insightful reporting has made Ainge’s show the fastest growing radio program in Tennessee, but he is quick to point out that his is more than “just” a radio show.

“We are a comprehensive sports entertainment media outlet,” Ainge said. “Yes, you can listen to us on the radio every morning from 7 to 11 a.m. – but you can also stream us online at your desk, listen on your iPhone or Android phone with our free app, or listen to our daily podcasts whenever and wherever you want. We incorporate videos, pictures and music into our show online, and our audience eats it up. We’re the first sports show to completely embrace new media, and our listeners are fully-engaged. They love it.”

Erik Ainge, New York Jets

The numbers support what Ainge says. He currently has more than 28,000 Twitter followers who interact with him all day, his podcasts are downloaded 11,000 times every week, and his blog gets more than 25,000 unique weekly views. Nearly 30,000 phones are currently using the free Tennessee Sports Radio app to listen in and interact with his show.

Ainge was 17-5 as a starter at University of Tennessee. As a senior in 2007, he passed for 3,522 yards and 31 touchdowns with just 10 interceptions. Despite throwing 513 passes his senior year, he was only sacked three times. He completed 62.6 percent of his passes and had a 135.48 QB rating.

Ainge set a number of school records during his time with the Vols, including a stellar senior season in 2007 in which he set marks for touchdown passes in a game (seven, against Kentucky in a 52-50 win), completions and attempts (325 and 519), and had the second-best season for yardage with 3,522, only behind Peyton Manning’s 3,819 in his senior season. Ainge’s complete stats and records from his football career can be found here and here.

For more information about Tennessee Sports Radio and The Erik Ainge Show, visit www.TNSportsRadio.com or download the free Tennessee Sports Radio app. Ainge can also be followed on Twitter (@ErikAinge3).

Dec 062012

Newspapers across the country are flocking to paywalls (paid access to online content) to stop their bleeding revenue stream, but it’s a shortsighted plan that does nothing to address the real problem. The print media industry has had its proverbial legs cut off in recent years, and paywalls are the equivalent to popping a few aspirin. It may lessen the pain for a few minutes, but it isn’t going to save them.

Many smart people will argue that the real mistake news outlets made was giving away news for free when the Internet was in its infancy, but they are wrong. Those people believe that they can correct their “mistake” by going back now and making people pay for something they have been getting for free for more than a decade. Wall Street Journal’s Richard Tofel, says in his book, “How, as a visitor from another planet might ask, did a large industry that had successfully charged customers for its product for more than a century come to decide to give that product away and thus threaten its very existence?” This is known in the media business as the “original sin” theory (which, ironically, isn’t original or a sin) – and it’s simply dumb.

While everyone from the American Journalism Review and Columbia Journalism Review to media mogul Rupert Murdoch are supporting paywalls as the solution to the original sin, they fail to recognize that it’s based on an outdated business model from a time when newspapers controlled the primary distribution platform and had a virtual monopoly on news content. Neither of those things is true today. The other – far more important – problem with the paywall strategy is that subscriptions (payment for content) have NEVER been the primary revenue source for newspapers. Subscriptions have always taken a back seat to advertising revenue. And this is where the paywall strategy falls flat on its face. Without fail, every single time, paywalls will decrease the number of people viewing your content … and, in turn, decrease the number of people seeing your ads.

Every time a publisher or editor tries to sell the public on the paywall concept, they inevitably point to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times as examples of paywall triumphs. The New York Times has what is likely the most successful paywall service in the world – and it barely brings in enough money to offset the losses the New York Times is experiencing from declining advertising revenue. Let’s be honest, your little hometown newspaper isn’t the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. I see people reading those publications everywhere I go – but I can’t recall seeing anyone reading the Knoxville News Sentinel or Maryville Daily Times at a Starbuck’s in New York City, Washington, D.C., Denver or Chicago … ever.

As you consider all of this, also recognize that the world is lining up against newspapers in many other ways while they are struggling to develop a viable business model. Here are some other struggles newspapers face:

  • Cutting down trees to create a paper product (that will be in the trashcan by 10 a.m.) using a process that pollutes the environment and requires massive amounts of power to run printing presses, then guzzling gasoline to distribute those newspapers to people’s homes is not only inefficient, costly and wasteful, it’s increasingly viewed as downright irresponsible.
  • The younger generation doesn’t get all misty-eyed over the feel of a newspaper or the smell of newsprint and coffee in the morning because that has NEVER been a part of their life.
  • Telling people that your online readership is “ten times” the number of people who read your print product while you charge ten times MORE for advertising in your actual newspaper is stupid.
  • Anyone who has five extra minutes in their day and can afford $9.99 for a domain name now has the ability to distribute news (and before you start rattling off the names of irrelevant blogs, think “HuffingtonPost”).
  • Decreasing your audience is an insane strategy.
  • Advertisers recognize that there are now more cost-effective alternatives to newspapers that reach a far larger audience and can be more easily targeted to their desired demographics. And those alternatives are completely trackable – providing real stats and data about who is seeing the advertising and what they’re doing after they see it.

I don’t claim to have the answers to the many problems facing the newspaper industry, but the problems with their new business model are obvious. The “original sin” of the newspaper industry was not giving away content for free – it was clinging to “business as usual” while the world changed rapidly around them. As long as people can get local news online for free (in Knoxville, there are at least THREE legitimate free news services provided by the local television news affiliates), most of the general public will not pay for digital local news. This is not rocket science. Charging readers to see your news content will simply reduce your readership, and therefore reduce the value of your advertising space – which will ultimately cost you more money than you will ever generate from your paywall.


Nov 062012

If you work with or for a public relations firm, chances are you have heard, “you must control the message and you must manage the media.” Most firms also want to sell you a detailed “crisis management” program and, if asked, will tell you that their media contact lists are “private, protected and proprietary.” The theme you see here is control … much of what PR practitioners claim to offer is control and management of information and others.

PR firms have effectively sold the illusion of control for far too long. “Control” is easy to sell because clients long for it as much as the PR firms do. Sadly for PR firms (and their clients), that plane left the gate a long time ago and they weren’t on it.  It’s not coming back for them and they had better figure out another way to get where they’re going or they will be forever left behind. Social media made much of what PR firms do irrelevant. Some have embraced the change and are quickly becoming very skilled at operating in a new world, but many are pitifully holding on to tired old practices. If your firm tells you they are a “traditional PR firm”, know that, in this case, “traditional” means “useless and outdated.”

Here’s why:

  • You don’t “control” the message. You never did. The message has always belonged to the marketplace. Remember “New Coke”?  You can participate in the message – even shape it – but ultimately the message and the brand belong to the marketplace.
  • You don’t “control the media”. You never did. Good journalists humor you because they know that every now and then you have info they want or need. That’s all. They don’t care about your “exclusivity” any longer because the first outlet to break a story typically has the “exclusive” for about 45 seconds. The world has changed – and media has changed dramatically.
  • A crisis can’t be “managed” in the manner you try to manage them. Back in the day when a fire broke out and it took 20 minutes for a news team to arrive on site, it made sense to have your outdated plans for where to meet the media and who would talk to them. Today, everyone with a cell phone is a journalist – and their video of the fire will be on YouTube with hundreds of hits before your client even lets you know that there is a fire.
  • Protecting your private media list is just silly. Any high school student with a computer and Internet connection can put together a media list in an hour or two that is likely as good as or better than the one you use (and is likely more accurate and up-to-date). Social media allows anyone with average intelligence to follow and interact with the media.

There’s a great column by David Schwartz on Steam Feed, a marketing, social media and tech site.  In it, Schwartz outlines and details how social media has changed the world for PR practitioners. He gives solid examples of what has changed and what has not in the world of public relations. Schwartz says, “I remember the days when interns used to gather local and national papers to comb them for mentions of clients.” Sadly, I know of firms that still do this today and charge clients huge amounts of money for this complete waste of time and resources. Some things Schwartz writes about have started to change, but not all of them. Read David’s complete story here.

Public relations is still a viable and important part of any successful marketing program. It can have an impact, build relationships, provide an important service, and help companies and individuals succeed. It is also becoming much easier for the average small business owner (or large corporation) to do what PR firms have done in the past. If public relations firms wish to stay relevant and necessary, they need to embrace the new world they operate in and start spending less time on the illusion of “managing” and “controlling” and more time “engaging” and “participating.”

Oct 172012

Social media experts, gurus, authorities, coaches, thought leaders, specialists and “pros” listen up: You are annoying and you need to shut the hell up, go back to your office (or couch) and listen to your indie music. Right now. Enough already.

While it is cute that you believe your area of expertise has changed the world, I would like to remind you that the world has been changing for thousands of years – and it will continue to do so as you grow up. Your incessant motivational Twitter and Facebook posts about how to effectively post on Facebook and Twitter only motivate me to un-follow and un-friend you … because you are simple and boring.

Here’s a little history lesson for you social media professionals (please note that I am not linking to another source here, I’m actually writing this):  People started communicating when the first cave painting was scrawled on rock tens of thousands of years ago. People have been writing down their ideas since around 3,000 BC (give or take 500 years).  Remember Socrates? He, and many other great thinkers, used storytelling and the spoken word to communicate thoughts and ideas around 400 BC. The printing press came along in the early 1400s, followed by radio, television, cable television, the Internet, and, finally, social media. Each and every one of those things was billed as a “game changer”.

While I love technology, I do not believe any of these things changed the world – they simply changed the way we did the things we were already doing.  What we were (and are) doing is communicating and exchanging information. And we will still be doing it when your great grandchildren are laughing at your nose ring.

The nonstop digital ramblings about how to effectively use social media are about as interesting as a newspaper article highlighting how to read a newspaper or a television show about how to watch television. Enough already. Please remember that most of the technology you are wetting your skinny jeans over will go the way of MySpace in a matter of time.

Now, here’s the important part – which I should probably offset with “OMG” and many exclamation points to ensure that you social media types actually read this – content matters.  Good content will always have a valuable place in this world. It doesn’t matter if it is verbal, in a book, magazine, newspaper, website, blog, on network television, on cable television, or in a freaking podcast on my iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle.  Good content is where you should be focusing all that tattooed, pierced, highly-caffeinated energy because, for the most part, you SUCK at it.

Instead of spending hours linking your tweets and Facebook posts to other people’s content, try spending 30 minutes creating some of YOUR OWN original content. Yes, I know, that takes a little work and may require more than 140 characters … and you might be forced to type the word “to” instead merely using “2” … but you’ll have a sense of accomplishment for actually creating something. And who knows, someone might actually link to your content and increase your Klout score – which is amazingly low for a “guru”

Sep 102012

As someone who has worked with public relations firms for nearly 20 years (as both a client and a PR pro), I have very strong feelings about ethics in the PR field. Unfortunately, very few firms make honest and ethical business practices a central part of their core philosophy. More often than not, they are operating on the “I don’t care what you have to do, bring us more business” principle. They excuse themselves by halfheartedly believing they are merely carrying out their clients’ wishes or, in today’s world, fighting for their own survival.

PR Week Magazine has an article this week that should be required-reading for any and all PR practitioners.  In it, Gil Bashe of Makovsky + Company states, “Put public relations and ethics in the same conversational sentence and you’re bound to spark some snide descriptors.

We sometimes endure the expected sarcastic descriptions as “flacks” or “spin doctors.” Are those snide comments on our profession deserved or earned? Perhaps, as front-line industry and government spokespeople, our task as educators and explainers is misinterpreted…even distrusted. Maybe, we are not doing enough within the profession and our agencies to help colleagues sharpen their ethical compasses?”

Bashe continues by stating, “Public relations professionals should inspire people to do better for themselves and their audiences. In fact, ethical conduct is so essential to the quality and impact of our work that the Public Relations Society of America issued recently an “Act Ethically and Carry On,” poster, a creative take off on the popular early World War II British morale-building call-to-action.

For PR agency colleagues who experienced the recent years of fee-famine, opportunity can stimulate unquenchable thirst for “do whatever it takes” to win and deliver. However, there is a limit – an ethical limit. Navigating the decision-making process requires business and personal courage. We are representatives of companies and firms seeking to influence public opinion and behavior.”

I could tell horror stories of some of the PR industry’s “tricks of the trade”. Policies and procedures widely used that are outright fraudulent and misleading – for both clients and the general public. Anyone who has worked with a variety of firms could easily tell similar stories. One can hope that as large, reputable firms get recognition for being above-board and ethical, the smaller firms will follow suit. Or, possibly, they will simply succumb to the current economy that they claim forces them to misbehave. Either way, the world is a better place.

Read the entire PR Week story here.

Aug 082012

The popular PBS Television show “History Detectives” seems to have made an amazing find.  An ornate  picture frame that hung on the wall at a grandma’s house had a number of interesting stories swirling about it — so the family called the History Detectives to find out if any of the tall tales were true.  Using state-of-the-art forensics and some of the most high tech lab equipment in the world, the team makes an amazing discovery.  The picture frame is actually a piece of the world’s most famous luxury liner, The RMS Titanic.

See some of the advanced science use to trace the picture frame’s origin on the clip below.  Great television from PBS and an awesome find for this family.

Video courtesy of CNN.

Aug 062012

OK … this is simply too cool.  Why didn’t I think of this? A new startup called “Togather” offers literature fans a way to lure authors to places not popular for book signing tours by promising to buy books.

From Drake Baer of Fast Company:  “Brooklyn writer Andrew Kessler had lived the stuff of nerd dreams. He was with NASA mission control during the 2008 Mars rover expedition, and he captured that experience in a book, Martian Summer.

He took a leave of absence from his gig as creative director at marketing firm Huge Inc. to promote the book. He got featured on Weekend Edition. He got 4.5 stars on Amazon. He even opened his own “monobookist bookstore” to stoke interest.

“But it didn’t work,” he says, “and that wasn’t a surprise to anyone.”

John Irving signing books … in Knoxville?

Kessler’s biggest problem was that he couldn’t connect directly with his would-be readers. He needed a successful roadshow to follow up on the media buzz he’d generated. If he could connect with the hundreds of astronomy clubs around the country and get commitments to buy his books in exchange for seeing him speak, he would be “happy, oh so happy, to speak to any one of them.” But he occasionally he showed up at speaking dates and not only sold zero books, rooms would be empty–an experience that he says was “soul-crushing and terrible.”

He realized that this problem was not his alone.

Back at Huge, CEO Aaron Shapiro (full disclosure: an expert contributor to Co.Lead) had released his own book Users, Not Customers and was running into the same speaking-tour problem. They put their heads together and zeroed in on a question: Could you get people to commit in advance to buying your books if in advance you agreed to go talk to them?

Their solution, Togather, launches today. The event-planning, book-selling service uses Kickstarter-style group buy to bring authors to their audiences and base speaking gigs on promised sales.

The site’s got the consumable hallmarks of the social web: clean design, sans serif fonts, get-in-and-get-out functionality. An author’s page has a bio, calendar of events, present location, tweets, and fan feedback. The key is the big blue “Create an Event!” button in the middle.

Those clicks begin proposals. When authors sign in, they’ll see notifications, and they can decide on thresholds of books bought to tip events. So, say, rover enthusiasts can tell astronomy friends that they brought their favorite Mars writer to Albuquerque or Annapolis–places not normally served by touring authors like Kessler. If the author’s far away, there might be a travel stipend tacked on.

Read the entire Fast Company story here.

Aug 032012

Haters are hating on the Ralph Lauren outfits that Team USA wore in the London 2012 Olympic Games opening ceremonies.  They are idiots.  Now, a new batch of morons is all worked up over the fact that our medal-winning Olympians don’t look like an American Flag threw up on them when they take the medal stand.  Are you kidding me?

The US Olympians look fantastic in their Nike 21st C. Windrunner jackets — and the gray looks awesome (not to mention that the jackets literally light up like a spotlight under even  the most subtle lighting).  No one can say our Olympians aren’t shining in London.  I love the jackets … and would be wearing one right now if they didn’t cost $450.  You can get your own at Finish Line.  Then – please – wear it when you go out to beat up one of those people who have nothing better to do than complain about how our medal-winning athletes don’t look like washed-up country music signers.

Ryan Lochte (L) and Michael Phelps (R) making the US proud in their Nike Windrunner jackets.


The US Olympic Gymnasts take the gold in Nike 21 C. Windrunner jackets.

Aug 012012

A 31-year-old doctoral student in Arizona learned the power of social media by going to war with the Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini on Twitter.  This story from the Washington Post shows what tenacity and creativity – when combined with cojones – can accomplish in this digitally-connected world.

This situation also shows that Eric Schmidt (former Executive Chairman of Google) knew what he was talking about when he said, “The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

Arijit Guha

While the outcome of this Arizona State student’s story is a happy one, it leaves me questioning what will happen the next time someone kicks Bertolini’s butt online … or any other CEO for that matter.  I can only guess that everyone with a gripe against Aetna is frantically tweeting as this very moment.  Unfortunately, I doubt the insurance company’s willingness to do the right thing is limitless.  We’ll see.

Here’s part of the Washington Post article by Sarah Kliff:

Arijit Guha is a 31-year-old who lives in Phoenix, Ariz. He is pursuing a doctoral degree in sustainability at Arizona State University. He recently got married. And, since February, he has sold tee-shirts to pay for his own chemotherapy.

Guha has Stage 4 colon cancer, a diagnosis that comes with an 8.1 percent survival rate. While he does have health insurance, a student plan through Arizona State, it has a lifetime limit of $300,000 in medical expenses. Guha has spent all of that, largely on chemotherapy sessions that cost $11,000 each.

In February, Guha launched a Web site called Poop Strong – a play on the Lance Armstrong cancer non-profit, Live Strong – where he fundraises to cover his medical costs. He sells funny tee shirts – “Keep Calm and Poop Strong” is one slogan – and items donated from friends and family, like hand-crocheted cowls from a friend and her mother.

“My friend once said what I’m doing seems like the world’s most important bake sale,” Guha says. “It sometimes feels like this weird joke, that I’m selling tee shirts to pay for chemotherapy.”

Guha never expected to be in this position. He’s grew up in an upper-middle class family, and graduated in 2003 from Carleton College, a top-ranked liberal arts college in Minnesota. He then pursued a master’s degree from Clark University in Massachusetts.

The colon cancer diagnosis was a complete surprise. Guha had been on a trip to India, to visit family members with his wife when he started getting sharp stomach pains. ”It’s inevitably the case that you get some sort of stomach bug there,” he says. “But I remember telling my wife, I should get this checked when we get back.”

Test after test came up negative, until he visited a gastrologist who made his diagnosis: Guha had a 6-centimeter tumor obstructing his colon. Even then, it didn’t seem that bad: Doctors thought they could go into the colon and easily cut out the obstruction. Guha was scheduled for surgery immediately. He would joke about how this would be his “one week with cancer.”

The procedure did not, however, go as planned. Once surgery got underway, doctors saw that smaller tumors had overtaken Guha’s abdominal lining. Those tumors were too pervasive to be removed surgically. So Guha began what would be 18 months of chemotherapy and additional procedures. One doctor began talking about the possibility of palliative care.

“The past year and a half has really been surreal,” Guha says. “There’s just been a lot of shock. When I went into surgery last February, I didn’t expect any of this stuff.”

He did not expect the mounting medical bills, either. Last summer, Guha looked over his spending and realized he was quickly coming up on his health insurance plan’s lifetime limit. The health reform law does eliminate lifetime limits on coverage, but that regulation does not take effect until Aug. 1 – later this week – and only applies to plan years that begin after that date.

A chemotherapy session in January finally exhausted his coverage. ”I was left with the rest of the bills since then,” Guha says. “Right now that adds up to $118,000.”

Read the entire Washington Post story here.