Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Foo Fighters Sonic Highways: CD, HBO Series and Creative Marketing

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how bands need to find new creative ways to market their CD's (Is the Rock CD Dying?). As the CD industry continues to decline, few artists have found effective ways to connect with their fans in a way to sell more CD's. One of the standouts is Taylor Swift. Jessica Gioglio recently wrote a blog post for Convince and Convert about Swift's use of Instagram to engage with her fans. Now it's the Foo Fighters turn as they look to creatively market their newest CD, Sonic Highways.

Foo Fighters were going to have a hard time topping their last album, Wasting Light.  That album took them to new heights. They were everywhere...MTV (when they actually did something music-based), the Grammys...even a documentary on their history through the making of the album. So what did Dave Grohl come up with? A concept to record eight songs in eight cities (Chicago, Washington DC, Nashville, Austin, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Seattle and New York). Oh, and if that wasn't enough, he would also create a documentary highlighting the musical history of each city for an HBO series. Still not enough? (Yeah, we're a tough crowd...) Grohl used quotes from the interviews from the artists to craft the lyrics for each song.

The band spent a week in each city. They'd record the music during the day and, at night, Grohl would interview artists for the documentary. At the end of the week, he'd take the notes from the artists and work them into lyrics for the song they were recording. On the last day, he'd record the lyrics and they'd record the video for the song that ran at the end of each show. Grohl admitted in an interview with Rolling Stone (read it here) that it was a lot more work than he anticipated.

The series is incredibly well done and captivating. Some of the transitions between musical genres were a little choppy, but Grohl's conversational interview style put the artists at ease as they talked about their experiences. You learn about the bands that put these cities on the map, and you also get a glimpse of how Grohl and the Foo Fighters were influenced as well. To top it off, they also had a guest artist for each song. Not only does this bring additional interest in the songs for Foo Fighters fans, but it opens them up to fans of the guest artists (such as Gary Clark, Jr., Zac Brown, Rick Nielsen and Joe Walsh) who may not be current Foo Fighters fans. Getting them to listen to one song might get them to listen to another...and then, possibly liking it enough to buy the CD.

In addition to the documentary series, they secured a guest spot for a full week on the David Letterman show (David Letterman, in the form of Worldwide Pants, was one of the producers of the HBO series). They spent the week playing cover songs with some guest musicians (most of whom appear on the Sonic Highways CD)...leading up to the first single, Something From Nothing, performed live on the Friday show. Each performance was also promoted heavily on social media the following day.

The album debuted at #2 on the Billboard Music chart with 190,000 sales. Overall, I like the CD, but it doesn't match the energy of Wasting Light. It's much more similar to the Sound City soundtrack...the documentary Grohl made about the Sound City studio and in which he brought artists in to record a song in 24 hours. The series very much helps the songs as I had a much stronger appreciation of each song after watching the shows. From seeing the recording and song writing process, as well as the collaboration with the guest artists, there are a little things I wouldn't have noticed had I not watched. It's a great enhancement for the CD with highlights in Something From Nothing, Feast and the Famine, Congregation and I am the River.

Grohl said that this experience has opened up a world of opportunities for the band. In the same Rolling Stone interview, and in true Dave Grohl fashion, he also said, "I'm always learning. You know I have no idea what I'm doing, right?" It's that self awareness and willingness to try things that make most of what Grohl does such a breath of fresh air. His curiosity and eagerness to learn shines through his projects and is perhaps what endears them to us.

What do you think of the CD and/or HBO series? If you haven't checked them out, I highly recommend it. What do you think about it as a marketing vehicle. Leave me your thoughts in the comments below or on social media. Thanks for reading and please share it with your friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

How Developing My Personal Brand Led to a New Opportunity

It’s about 5:30pm on Friday, November 21st and I’ve just hung up the phone. I’m not just excited, I’m exhilarated! A new chapter in my life is about to begin. A new challenge as I just told Paul Roetzer (@PaulRoetzer) that I’m accepting his offer to come work at PR 20/20! It’s the result and reward of hard work to build my personal brand over the last year. My biggest goal for 2014 was to find a new job. While I couldn't make great positions just appear, I could put myself in the best position for when they did open up.

How did I do it? I built a strategy that put a sharper focus on a lot of the things that I was already doing. I applied the marketing that I’ve done forever and have a passion for…just towards myself. The most important thing in establishing your personal brand is figuring out what you want people to think and know about you. What thoughts come out when your name is brought up? The three areas I want people to know about me are marketing, my love for Cleveland and music (specifically rock music). So I adjusted the following areas to make sure that these came out loud and clear.
My Blog – Taking It Back (
The first and biggest area was my blog. I had started it already and was blogging every once in a while, but I needed to be more consistent. I made the commitment to post weekly. My topics are the main things I want to be known for…marketing, Cleveland and music. Also, I write a little about the cable industry (based on my former cable life), but have scaled back a bit to focus on the other areas and tried to have a Cleveland or marketing angle to those posts. I promote each of my blog posts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+…usually with a daily post on each for 3-4 days, varying the messages. I track the views to see which topics resonant to my readers and which don’t. I’m glad to say that I’ve posted every week so far this year. To be fair, a couple were re-posts of past articles when I was on vacation.  I’m also now publishing a good number of my posts on LinkedIn.

Social Media
With social media, especially Twitter and LinkedIn, I look for marketing articles to re-tweet and share that I find interesting and/or useful. I try to include a quick takeaway or short opinion to show that I understand what the article is saying or where trends are heading. I look for opportunities to comment on a post or add to a conversation (hopefully not in a creepy way). By doing this, I've been able to build relationships, with many leading to real life meetings (more on this in a minute). 

Another good way to build relationships on Twitter is by tweeting during webinars or participating in Twitter chats. It's a good way to establish your credibility in your field (marketing, in my case) and to find people to follow that you can learn from. Lately, however, I've been more selective of who I follow. By following too many people, my Twitter feed was being bogged down with more information than I could possibly sift through and fewer actual conversations. The point of social media is to interact, so I'm getting back to doing more of that. I wrote a blog post about this if you'd like to read more here.

With LinkedIn and Google+, I mostly share articles that I find interesting. I also comment on others' posts. I made a concerted effort to be more active in both. I still use Facebook mostly for personal use, but tailor a lot of my messages to coincide with my focuses. In all platforms, I try to make sure my personality shines through. I want to be authentic, and I want it to be fun too. 

Events are an opportunity to build new relationships or develop those you’ve started through social media. There are all kinds of events to get involved with. I've been very active with the American Marketing Association and American Advertising Federation. I've volunteered with both groups in order to get to know some of the best marketers in the area and to get new experiences. Tweet ups are another way to build on relationships with people you meet on Twitter. 

Conferences are a huge opportunity to network. My biggest recommendation is to have a plan of attack for what you want to accomplish. I always want to come away with at least two things I can implement in my job almost immediately. I always come away feeling very inspired and with a lot of new ideas. However, once I get back to the day to day work life, it’s very easy to fall back into usual habits. The longer I wait to implement it, the less likely it is to happen. So, I look for things that can have a quick impact. 

The opportunity to meet and learn from so many great marketers is one of the best benefits of conferences. Figure out beforehand who you want to meet or talk to. If you already interact with them on social media, mention you’d love to have a minute to meet in person. Most of the speakers are very accessible as well. For example, this past year at Content Marketing World, I made a point to talk with Jason Miller. We’d chatted a bit on social media and we share a love of rock music (which he incorporates into his presentations). I’m a big fan of his marketing and his rock and roll photography (check it out at It was great just to get a few minutes to say hi and talk a little music.

I can’t stress enough how important the events are at a conference. These are when you have a chance to meet people while you have your guard down a little. For Content Marketing World, the Sunday before the start of the conference, Joe Pulizzi (@joepulizzi) and Robert Rose (@Robert_Rose) were recording their podcast live and invited attendees. I met Ian Cleary (@IanCleary), who then introduced me to Andy Crestodina (@Crestodina). Two incredibly smart marketers. I didn’t go with the intention of meeting them, but am very glad that I did. In fact, speaking of having a plan for conferences, Crestodina had the most creative, inspired and fun tactics during the conference. Had I not met him, I may not have even paid attention to what he was doing. That would have been a huge miss for me!

So with these tactics, how has my personal brand grown and what benefits have I seen? The biggest is that my network of friends and colleagues continues to grow. People appreciate help I give them (and I'm happy to give it). I've also had opportunities to guest Tweet for @InTheCle and guest blog for Cleveland Plus. 

The ultimate result is my new role with PR 20/20. I'll be able to better utilize my marketing skills and continue to learn and grow. In essence, I get to establish new goals and take my career to new heights. I can't wait to get started. I've had a blast getting to this point and I'm going to have even more fun now!

Well, that's my story. Each of us has a different path though. How have you grown your brand? What tactics have been successful for you? What recommendations would you give? Any questions for me? Reply in the comments below. Thanks everyone for reading and please share this with your friends. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank You. Two Small Words That Go a Long Way!

"Thank You". Two words that go a long way. In business, research has shown that a simple "thank you" can do wonders for morale. You've felt it. You finish a project and your boss thanks you and instinctively feel good. Just that recognition and appreciation motivates us.

In social media, I see "thank you's" all the time, and I've gotten a few myself. I appreciate the fact that someone takes the time to send a quick message. It encourages me to continue helping them and to make sure that I thank those that help me out as well. 

With that, rather than write one of my normal posts on marketing, music or whatever, I just want to express my appreciation to all of you. This year will be ending on a high note for me (more on that next week) and much of that is due to a lot of people who helped me along the way. I couldn't possibly list everyone that has helped me (and I don't want to insult anyone by leaving out a name), but this is for all of you:

  • Thanks to my wife, family and all my friends for all your love, help, advice and support. It truly means more than words can say and you've all helped me more than I could ever repay (although I'll still try!).
  • Thank you for those of you who read my blog. With all the messages out there and people vying for your attention, I appreciate that you find what I say interesting enough to spend a few minutes checking it out. Whether you've read one post or many, thank you.

Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving weekend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Decline of Facebook Civilization, Part 2

We lived through the first wave of the crisis that is the decline of the Facebook reach for brand posts. “Reachpocalypse” as Jay Baer called it here. We all freaked out as we watched our posts barely reach any of our "Like" audience. We cursed Facebook everywhere we could...posts, blogs, Tweets, etc. You remember that right? Well, get ready to do it all over again...
On Friday, Facebook announced that they will be greatly reducing overly promotional page posts on news feeds (read their statement here). This is likely going to bring many brands' posts down to zero reach. They say there's certain criteria that makes up a post that is "too promotional" (only pushing people to buy or enter a contest with no context or reusing exact ad copy). It will be interesting to see what makes it through. Likely, this is the end of free posting for brands. We’re going to have to pay for ads now to get our content seen.
Facebook is saying this is based on what their users want. However, if they really asked users what they want, they'd probably say they want less bad posts regardless if it's a brand or friends/family (yes, thank you for showing yet another photo of what you're about to eat). 

Taking off my marketing hat for a minute, because I'm a user too, I don’t mind seeing posts from brands I like. In fact, I like seeing their posts much more than any Facebook ads. Do I like it better when they’re useful and/or fun rather than salesy? Of course. Are there brands that I’ve liked on Facebook that I don’t want to see their posts? Again, yes. Can't I just unlike the brands that I don't want to see content from? Yes, but laziness and/or procrastination usually take hold here. 
What I’d like as a user is for Facebook to give me (and all of us) control over what we see. I’ve said it before: If I like a brand, have something pop up that I click “yes” or “no” on if I want to see posts from the brand in my newsfeed. Then, give brands visibility into who clicks “no”. That info would be very valuable to a brand. Imagine if you could have a list of those who liked your brand but opted out of receiving your posts! (Looks like I put my marketing hat back on a couple of sentences ago.)  
But let's face it...that's not happening. But this further decline is. There is one potential benefit that may come from it.  While a lot of the Facebook content from brands is really good, there’s an awful lot that just isn’t. A lot of companies post content for the sake of posting content. If we all have to pay for what we want to post, we’re going to think more carefully about what we put out there. Gone will be the “Oh crap, it’s 3pm and I still haven’t posted anything today!" Paying for ads forces brands to create their Facebook strategy (if they haven’t yet) and to make sure each post sticks to that strategy. You don’t want to pay for an ad that doesn’t get you closer to your goals. So, users' feeds may be de-cluttered of low quality content (from brands...not much you can do about the friend that always posts their food photos). Win-win, I say...except for the paying for the ad part. 
We all knew this was coming. And, it won’t stop with Facebook. Guess who owns Instagram? You’ve already heard the rumors that Twitter will be implementing algorithms to their feed. Just go down the line of your favorite social media platforms. There are really no different options or solutions than there were when the decline first started. See Jay Baer’s article that I referenced earlier for his four options. And, as Joe Pulizzi has said many times in blogs, presentations and This Old Marketing: Stop building your branded content on rented land!
How much have you been effected so far by the Facebook decline? What have you done to compensate? What do you plan to do in the future? Please discuss in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and if you like this post, please share it with your marketing friends!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is the Rock CD Dying?

When I was in high school, there was nothing better to me than getting one of my favorite bands new tapes (remember cassettes?) and listening to the whole thing over and over. I'd come home from school and blast Guns 'n' Roses, Skid Row, Tesla, Motley name it! My friends would do the same thing and we'd talk about our favorite tapes (soon to be CD's) for hours. As we all know, the music scene has changed dramatically since those day.

Despite the fact that this year has actually been a strong year for rock CD releases (Slash, Judas Priest, Black Label Society, Tesla, Ace Frehley...just to name a few), are we nearing the end of the rock CD? I'm not talking about pop CD's like Taylor Swift's 1989 that was the first CD to go platinum this year, although even that may be the last platinum CD if you believe this article by I'm talking about pure rock artists. The sad truth is that the CD's just don't sell enough to make money for most bands.
It's not just newer bands that have a hard time selling CD's, it's established artists like Aerosmith and Sammy Hagar who have dedicated fan bases. Joe Perry told Rolling Stone (read it here) back in May that he doesn't know if it makes sense to record a new album. Joey Kramer also said as much on Eddie Trunk's podcast. It costs a lot to make a record and it's hard to make that money back in sales. Additionally, when it comes to their concerts, most fans don't want to hear any new songs anyway. Perry backed off a bit in a recent article and said that he expects Aerosmith to head back into the studio at some point. 
Sammy Hagar, who actually has put out two solo CD's in the last two years, has similar concerns when it comes to recording a new CD with his band, Chickenfoot. (read the article here). He says as much as he would love to record more music with the band, it's a lot of work and money to put out a record at that level only to be disappointed by the lack of sales. 
One of the problems (and I'm just as guilty as anyone) is that CD's have been devalued with being able to download music. U2's stunt with Apple (The New Top Selling Album of All Time – Songs of Innocence by U2) didn't help either. Supposedly, they are working with Apple on a new music delivery system that is supposed to benefit bands. Trent Reznor is also working with Apple (not sure if it's the same project) on a music delivery system (read more here). Hopefully they might be able to come up with something that would offer value to rock bands to make new music. Time will tell.
On top of touring to promote a CD, bands need to look for better ways to market themselves. With social media, they have direct access to their fans. Give them interesting things to watch or listen to. Tease bits and pieces of upcoming CD's. Bring fans backstage and behind the scenes. Don't just do it randomly though. Come up with a strategy and follow a marketing plan. See what's working for artists like Taylor Swift. They may get more attention and budget from their record company, but there are definitely takeaways that rock bands can learn from and implement. There's great new music out there. Rock bands need to do a better job of letting fans know it's there and letting them get a taste of it so they know it's good.

What do you think would change the state of rock CD's? What would make you want to buy more CD's? Reply with your ideas in the comments below or on any of the social media posts. Thanks for reading and please share my blog with your friends. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book Review: Everybody Writes by Ann Handley

Jeremy Bednarski Taking It Back
In 2011, I was attending the Exact Target Connections conference when I really noticed the term "content marketing" being used as a full direction and discipline. There were a few standout sessions at that show, but one that I just happened to pick really sunk in. I hadn't heard of Ann Handley or C.C. Chapman yet, or their book "Content Rules", but I was blown away by their presentation. I bought their book quickly upon returning home. You can read my review of Content Rules here
Jeremy Bednarski Taking It Back
Ann Handley at Content Marketing World 2014
Now, Ann Handley has a new book that builds on the idea of content creation by focusing on one of the areas that can be the most rewarding, intimidating, frustrating, you name it. You've been there. We all have. Staring at a blank page. Whether you're writing for school, your job, just for fun or whatever it is, that blank page can haunt you. Just when you thought there was no help to be found, Handley comes out with "Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content" to save us all! This book shot to the top of my "must read" list. 

There have been plenty of books on writing, even some good ones ("On Writing" by Stephen King is one of the best). This is not your run-of-the-mill boring text book on writing. Not at all! the tone of the book and her stories are not only interesting, they're entertaining! If you've heard her speak, and I'm assuming the majority of you reading this have, then you know her quirky sense of humor. It comes across loud and clear here (for example, she compares writing to birthing a Volkswagon). 
Jeremy Bednarski Taking It Back
I got my "Everybody Writes" swag! How cool of a marketing idea was this! Thanks, Ann!
"Everybody Writes" is part writing strategy guide, part grammar and style manual and part guide for writing tools and processes. This book is a reference for all writers regardless of how much or what you write. Handley believes that writing is a habit, not an art. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Her tips are meant as guidelines and not hard rules, because as she explains "there's no right way to write". Here is a quick list of 13 of her "rules" just to get you hooked.
Jeremy Bednarski Taking It Back
Ann Handley with Buddy Scalera at Content Marketing World 2014
There are a couple of tips that really stand out for me. The first is to follow a writing GPS so you can get to where you need to be. It keeps you on the right track. I've implemented this and it truly is helpful in keeping my thoughts in line with my topic. The second is The Ugly First Draft. For most writers, the first draft doesn't come out perfect, it's the editing that makes most writing great. So, get your thoughts on paper without worrying about grammar, spelling, structure, etc. All of that will be fixed during editing. 
Jeremy Bednarski Taking It Back
An Illustration of Ann Handley's presentation at Content Marketing World
Not only is this book great for those of us already in our careers, but I would issue this to high school and college writing courses. The writing style will keep them engaged in the book and the tips help them in their writing from the start. I'll be referring back to this book often and will re-read it regularly as well. Not only is this a must read, it's a must own! Have you read "Everybody Writes" yet? What were your biggest takeaways? Do you have a favorite quote or rule? Thanks for reading and please share this with your friends.

I'll leave you with my favorite rule: "Writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn." Damn right!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Are HBO and CBS Bringing About a Cable Revolution?

"The audience wants stories. All we have to do is give it to them!" Kevin Spacey emphasized this point in his keynote address at Content Marketing World (see video highlights here from Content Marketing Institute). He also said "The audience doesn't care about the platform. They care about the content!" This was in reference to House of Cards on Netflix where customers are able to watch episodes of the show wherever, whenever and as many as they want.

In my 8 years working for Cox Communications (2002-2010), a la carte was a constant request. Customers have never wanted to pay for 150+ channels when they only watch 17. As little as 3 years ago, there were few options to get programming outside of a cable subscription. Things have changed and programming is abundant through many platforms. The customers are speaking louder than ever of how and where they want to consume programming. 

HBO and CBS are paying attention as both recently announced that they are launching stand alone online services. See more details about both by clicking: HBO and CBS. HBO specifically said there are 80 million homes that don't have HBO that they are going after. These announcements are huge and are likely to be followed by more announcements (Showtime and Viacom are heavily rumored to be next). Shortly after, you probably saw headlines about the cable industry coming to its knees and OTT and a la carte taking over. Is the cable revolution here? While the potential is there, everyone needs to slow down.

First of all, this is a new market for programmers. Neither knows what to expect. HBO has yet to announce the price for their service. They need to be careful that they don't devalue and/or cannibalize their existing cable subscribers who are paying anywhere from $9.99 - $14.99/mo. (or more). On the other end, customers can get streaming HBO shows on Amazon Prime for about $100 per year ($8.25/mo.). So, the price will need to be competitive with that...not to mention Netflix and Hulu Plus.

CBS is in a different position. They've been trying for some time to come up with a business model to stream their shows online. They're going to charge $5.99/mo. However, subscribers will still have to put up with commercials. They admit they are going after super fans as they don't want to affect their traditional business.

Another wrinkle is that this puts the actual selling directly on the programmers. Traditionally, programmers provide the support through commercials, online assets, info sheets, free previews, incentives, etc. But the sales are actually closed by the sales teams from the cable company. It could be that it's all done online, but it's a shift in messaging and new processes to ensure subscribers get access easily to the programming. Like most things, some programmers will do a better job than others. Trust me when I say that, especially these days, the programming won't just sell itself. 

There are still a lot of questions to answer, processes to put in place and data to gather. HBO and CBS will definitely push OTT services forward. We'll get to the spot that Kevin Spacey is fighting for: content when we want it where we want it. The audience is already demanding it. But it's still going to be a slow process for now.  

What do you think of these services? Will either convince you to be a cord cutter (if you're not already considering it)? What would you be willing to pay for HBO? As always, thanks for reading. If you like my posts, please comment below and share them with your friends!