A Prescription for Novell's "Cold Realities"

Did you see this BusinessWeek story on Novell?

This company needs a radical re-thinking about its PR.

Up until 12 months ago, believe it or not, our firm used Novell's GroupWise email. Our network ran on NetWare. We've been fans of Novell's technology for years. Meanwhile we've been genuinely excited about their moves in Open Source. They're also local to our Boston HQ - so, basically, we root for 'em. But the marketing has been a hard slog, as evinced by the BW piece.

(Tougher yet are the comments made by the BW readers in the forum that follows the article. It was a few of those comments that led me to this post.)

Here's my prescription for how Novell ought to re-frame its core message, free of charge:

What does Novell stand for? Where is it headed?

There’s been little need to pay much attention to Novell for the last several years: regardless of the company’s entrenched revenue streams and storied history as a networking industry pioneer, from a PR perspective and in the minds of most of our corporate contacts, Novell’s been tabbed for a long time as "Yesterday’s News."

But I think I know what Novell really stands for, and where it’s supposed to be headed: if it played its cards right, Novell could create an "alternative version" of the future of the software industry.

Look at the current "stack" of horizontal corporate applications, ranging from the database to the application server, from the network operating system to the office productivity suite, from the desktop OS to the Instant Message and email systems and the Web browser: these are the foundation materials of computing, and with few exceptions this software has historically either been created and/or subsequently dominated by Microsoft. If you spent the last 20+ years in technology, whatever you could do, they could do it better, whether you were Novell or Netscape, or even IBM.

Until today. Until now. Until the new Novell.

What does Novell stand for, and where is it headed?

Novell is offering the first viable substitute to the Microsoft universe. By harnessing the energy and talent of thousands of talented software engineers who have devoted their lives to Open Source computing, Novell has diligently assembled a software ecosystem that can compete with Microsoft in virtually every area.

Replace Outlook with GroupWise and Evolution. Replace Office with OpenOffice.org. Replace Windows XP with the Novell Linux Desktop. Replace IE with Firefox. Replace the BackOffice server with JBoss… and so it goes! The IT group can even manage both Linux and Windows workstations via ZENworks.

In essence Novell is offering the power of a Goliath-killing cadre of code jockeys to global corporations – under the aegis of a safe, enterprise-grade, and universally respected brand-name vendor with ample support resources.

Today’s CIOs covet the power of Open Source; they want the brute-force coding prowess of the movement’s many innovators, but, without the threat of accidentally coaxing a rogue genie out of the proverbial LAMP. Nearly every IT chief is now investigating Open Source applications’ cost-effective price-points, solid security, and world-beater customization/flexibility options. The long-term goal is to slowly, surely (but safely) loosen Redmond’s stranglehold – at a pace and price that makes sense – throughout their application stack.

In essence, by working with Novell, the CIO can obtain all of the benefits of Open Source, including just “one neck to choke” if something breaks.

Who else can compete at this level? Red Hat doesn’t have the resources or product breadth of Novell. Plus, Novell’s pedigree in the server market naturally raises questions about Red Hat’s long-term viability, at least as a standalone company (despite Michael Dell’s $99M infusion). Sun’s got strong credentials in Open Source and identity management (thanks to the Waveset acquisition), and like Novell holds litigation-proof SVR4 rights – but, if you ask me, Sun has yet to prove that it can get out of its own way.

And anyway, let’s face it: the sex appeal is on the desktop, against Microsoft, and (IMHO) no Linux player of merit could stand in Novell’s path in this regard. Red Hat’s not serious about the desktop. Linspire? Xandros? These are non-starters in corporate America when pitted against the Novell/SuSe combo.

So what’s the Big Message? Simple. Call Novell if you want an Open Source Enterprise. And if you still want to play in the Microsoft world? – Go buy an Xbox.

The question the industry has on its mind is, “Can Novell deliver? Can the company recover from its series of missteps and false starts? Is it ‘for real’ this time?” and, “Why should I care?”

This could be a PR story of near-Biblical proportions. Let's face it: Americans love underdogs. Americans love a comeback story. Americans are aspirational. Americans believe that the best man should win. American ideals are embodied in Novell's storyline, waiting to be dug out and paraded onto the battlefield.

It is incumbent on Novell to wake up, shape up and shake up – finally and convincingly – because in my humble opinion, 2006 represents Novell’s last shot at lasting greatness.

End of rant.

Maybe I got some of it wrong, but I stand by the gist of it.

Agree? Disagree? Send your comments here.

The Global Mandate

The Web is worldwide. But you knew that. What's becoming more obvious lately, though, is how the "wordwide web" is impacting PR at all levels. It's impacting PR at all levels because it's impacting clients' sales processes at all levels.

I am not talking about the obvious stuff, i.e., "What's posted in Sheboygan is read in Shanghai," or about blogs or wikis & whatnot (though that's important stuff, once you think about the execution of global programs), but, rather, about the fact that PR programs of ever-smaller sizes must each consider an international component - because the Web is truly globalizing sales channels for companies of all sizes.

Not that long ago, most PR programs for our clients were strictly domestic; they'd hire agencies in other geographies, of course, but asked us only to help coordinate matters. A company with, say, $30M in revenues likely got most of their sales in the U.S., anyway, so that was the big part of the PR focus.

This is changing. The newfound, Web-powered ability of a $30M company to sell its stuff across the world as cost-effectively as a sale made across the street is creating a necessity for PR programs of all sizes to incorporate global programming.

First there was the boom. Then, the bust. Then the big companies figured out how to make real $$$ using Web technologies, and their funding of these initiatives created a spillover effect that's trickling quickly down the supply chain.

In the old days "they" (maybe that should be "we") would say that "A website can make a small company look as if they can compete with a FORTUNE 1000 powerhouse." I am not so sure that was ever true, but what is true is that the Web is allowing a small company to compete in all the same global markets as the Big Boys.

And that's why clients of all sizes - with budgets of $5K per month to $50K per month - ask us about how we'll handle the worldwide PR program.

An interesting challenge for 2006. I'm keen to take it on.

It's How You Use It

My wife recently heard a right-wing commentator complain that the "liberal bias of the left-wing media" keeps Americans from hearing about good things going on in Iraq, etc.

Seems to me that the right-wing has grown a mighty loud voice in the media, eh? Isn't Fox News now the #1 news station? Hard to complain that the "message can't get out" if you own the biggest mouthpiece.

So, why aren't more right-wing media outlets crowing about all the behind-the-scenes goodness going on in Iraq? Why aren't they constantly beating this drum?

Why do they waste precious air time compaining about left-wing media bias when they can spend that time promoting their own agenda in a positive way?

Gotta love the culture wars.

The Long Tail of TV, brought to you by iPod

The collaboration of Disney/ABC and Apple announced this week is already being discussed on terms of how it could disrupt traditional broadcast revenue models. If a TV episode is available the day after its broadcast, via iTunes, then what'll happen to those lucrative DVD and syndication deals?

My guess? Those DVD and syndication deals will continue to be lucrative, and so will this new Download-On-Demand model.

We are not only voracious consumers of fresh content, we are also as a species reliably nostalgic. The retail shelfmasters will run out of space for Seinfeld Season 2 DVDs as large-scale demand peters out. Syndicators will fickly abandon All In The Family reruns for the Everybody Loves Raymond, leaving All In The Family fans in the lurch.

But ONLINE is FOREVER when you subscribe to the Long Tail theory.

A wise man once told me, "Used to be that paper was for archiving and online was for the here-and-now; it's switched: we now use paper to address the moment (print-outs for a meeting), but we archive everything online."

Same will happen with DVDs and online. Eventually ALL content will be ONLINE and ON-DEMAND at ALL TIMES. Why? Because there is a market for EVERYTHING.

And you'll be able to carry all of it in your backpocket, bro.

4th Quarter Blues

I hate the 4th quarter. Most agency execs do. In fact, I've spoken to a few agency veeps and CEOs in recent weeks, and invariably one of us would whine: "I hate the 4th quarter" and everyone else would nod, sagely & knowingly.

Loyalty flies out the window in 4Q.

The 4th quarter is when clients start wondering, "What else is out there?" They start to wonder about budgets - budgets spent and budgets to-come. They start picking up the phone when competitive agencies ask for a get-to-know-you cup o' joe.

It doesn't matter how much the client likes you. It doesn't matter how good a job you've done. The age-old truism, "Variety is the spice of life" rears its head in the 4th quarter.

This is the season of the wandering eye.

We have a client with whom we've worked for 8 years. It's been a superb relationship. By the client's own admission, 2005 was the best year yet. In fact, the worldwide tour (70-countries!) that we pulled off - seamlessly, and without a single legitimate news hook, by the way - led several internal executives at the client company to suggest that Summer 2005 represented the best PR effort in the company's 20+ year history.

But, it's the 4th quarter. So, we're "under review."

I am working in tandem with another agency CEO to participate in this particular review. We have a friendly co-opetition: sometimes we work together, sometimes we compete. He asked me the tough question: "Can we win this? It's tough for the incumbent to win." I agreed and went about explaining, defending, strategizing, etc. We're moving forward. End of story? Nope: two weeks later, one of HIS long-term, ostensibly happy clients asked SHIFT to participate in an agency review. I called this agency CEO to ask him if he's planning to participate; after all, "It's tough for the incumbent to win, eh?"

He just sighed, quietly, into the phone receiver. "Man, I hate the 4th quarter," he said.

Cultural Fragmentation, The Long Tail & Your 15 Minutes

The Long Tail theory espoused by Wired editor Chris Anderson is finding new adherents who don't even seem to know about it. Witness this interesting article in the Boston Globe today: the reporter is talking about how it is pretty much impossible to keep tabs on Popular Culture anymore. It's too fragmented.

Who has the time or mental energy to keep up on everything from Japanese anime to the Simpsons to Jessica Simpson's on-again, off-again love affair with hubby Nick Lachey? How many car accidents has Lindsay Lohan been in this year? Why is Ms. Lohan's pappy writing her a love song from prison? Why is Quentin Tarantino dating the ex-wife of Britney Spears' current husband? Will Universal pull the plug on its John Carter of Mars movie, which is being helmed by uber-blogger Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News? How will Sirius Satellite Radio's subscriber numbers be boosted by Howard Stern's debut? Will it be enough to swamp XM's current lead?

Why do I know these names? Why do I know this crap?

How much more crap do I not know about?

The answer to that is "A LOT. " And that's okay.

That's the Long Tail at work, folks: the fragementation of media is happening because there's an audience for each fragment. The quality (i.e., fanaticism) of these audiences makes up for the shrinking quantity of pop culture consumers.

Fanatics (a.k.a. "fans") spend money on their niche area; they click on the contextual ad banners that speak to their cultish interests; they keep the dialogue going in as many forums as possible, creating a virtuous and self-referential cycle that ultimately leads somebody to capitalize on this narrow band of consumers.

As this fragmentation continues it could have interesting ramifications on the users who make up these slices of slivers of splinters of pop culture. Since the communities-of-interest grow ever-smaller, the prominence of those people who make up the audience grows! The 1,000 people who are utterly and shamelessly obsessed with "Jessica & Nick" will cultivate their own leaders - those who are most opinionated or in-the-know. The 15 Minutes of Fame we each have come to expect in our lifetimes may not come on the evening news but rather among a tiny group of like-minded zealots...

Not sure whether that's good or bad, but damn, it's cool to think about, eh? (For me and my peeps, anyway - all 50 of 'em.) ;)

Hiring from the Outside

The GM of our SF office has been with us for 7 years.

A Boston VP here has been with us 9 years. Another VP has been here 7 years.

Some of our top employees, at the mid-manager level, have been here 5 - 7 years.

That's all great. Employee retention is a key factor in client retention. Clients don't like churn on their account teams. Long-term employees know "the SHIFT way" and minimize ramp-up on new accounts.

Everyone at SHIFT knows that we prefer to promote from within. It's been a big success factor for us.


There is something to be said for new blood. We just hired a VP in SF who came to us from the senior PR ranks of a monstro firm, and she is chomping at the bit to help us make new forays into consumer markets. There are additional senior hires on-tap who similarly feel that they'll make a big, positive impact on our li'l PR shop.

And I have to admit, the enthusiasm is infectious. Feeling good about 2006. How about you?