On Being Manly (in which I go to Australia)

Robert Hughes, the late Australian-born art critic, wrote a masterpiece of history in 1987, The Fatal Shore, in which he called his native land a “…cloaca, invisible, its contents filthy and unnameable.”

He was referring not to his own, but to  English attitudes during the Georgian era towards his yet unsettled country as England prepared to empty its hulk ships and festering jails onto the First Fleet sailing off to Cook’s oversold Botany Bay in what would come to be known as the “Great Transportation” — the forced resettlement of hundreds of thousands of petty thieves, whores, and miscreants. They had formerly been sold into indentured servitude to America prior to Great Britain losing that convenient dumping ground because of the American Revolution. No more America meant England needed a new dump and that Hughes chose a scatalogical simile is all part of the global conspiracy to paint this great country with cliches perpetuated by Men At Work, the “throw-a-shrimp-on-the-barby” guy, Discovery Channel’s “Weird Things that Will Kill You in Australia,” Mad Max and the Great Humungous, and the unnamed wit (I suspect Jeremy Clarkson) who called the place the “Alabama of the World.” Crikey, let’s give Australia a break. I’d move here in an instant.

I myself was transported to Sydney earlier this week courtesy of a seat in economy class on United Airlines and an invitation to attend a press conference announcing my company’s relationship with the Australian Government. I managed to read Thomas Keneally’s A Commonwealth of Thieves as well as re-read Fatal Shore during the 15.5 hour flight (versus five months for the First Fleet), and arrived at Kingsford Airport on the shores of Botany Bay on a muggy day in the southern hemisphere’s version of late spring. The Sydney Opera House conveniently revealed itself during the descent, looking smaller than I imagined (a view from 5,000 feet will tend to shrink objects).

My colleague suggested a hotel at Manly Beach, an eastern suburb of Sydney fast by North Head, the northern promontory at the entrance of Sydney Harbor. Soaked in a funk of plane sweat, all I wanted was a shower, but of course the room wasn’t ready when I checked in so I staggered around the waterfront and the “Corso” in a jet lag fugue taken to an extreme by the International Date Line. Was it Sunday or Tuesday? I left California on Saturday night, but it was Monday. I think. As Hughes writes in Fatal Shore,  the poor bastards that were first shipped off to Australia could have been embarking on a trip to the moon, except for one difference: you can see the moon from England.

First thing I did was flush a toilet to see if the water drained counter-clockwise due to the Coriolis Effect. It did not. According to Wikipedia: “Contrary to popular misconception, water rotation in home bathrooms under normal circumstances is not related to the Coriolis effect or to the rotation of the earth, and no consistent difference in rotation direction between toilet drainage in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can be observed.”

My colleague met me for lunch. He observed my wretched condition and asked if I might like to go for a swim, motioning out past the tall Norfolk Pines at the beauty of Manly Bay, the surfers riding the Cabbage Palm break and the infinite Pacific beyond.

“Box jellyfish. Great White Sharks. Stingrays. Saltwater Crocodiles. I don’t think so,” I said, beginning a five day recitation of every Australian cliche I could think of.

My room was (and still is) on the backside of the hotel, away from the beach, facing some place named with a lot of vowels in it, like “Woolooloogong” or “Baggahammas” and it was very thoughtful of the desk clerk to put me in a room overlooking a school playground filled with two hundred identically blue uniformed screaming children who seemed to be on perpetual recess. A cricket pitch is across the way where — I shit you not — they practice bagpipes at night. A weird bird that looks like a cockatoo flies by every five minutes and makes a noise like a pterodactyl that has gargled Drain-O.


I finally received my shower and then lunched with my colleague. After bidding him g’day I vowed not to break the first rule of coping with absurd jet lag: do not touch the bed while the sun is shining and don’t hunker down in a hotel room when you could be out walking it off. So I set out to explore Manly Beach. I  love a place named by the founding governor of Australia — Arthur Phillip — because he thought the aborigines on the beach looked quite manly. That they ran a spear through his shoulder next to a beached whale because they were tired of all his colonial incursions is besides the point: Governor Phillip survived and even accepted the locals had good reason to be miffed, what with the smallpox and pilfering convicts and what not and ordered the red coats not to go looking for revenge.

Where the governor was speared now stands the Manly Wharf, home of the “World Famous” Manly Ferry that connects to Sydney’s central business district in what I wager is the world’s most beautiful commute. I strolled down there on evening one, found a brew pub, and drank myself into a condition where sleep might be possible.

Tuesday was the big day, my reason for being there, a press conference in Sydney with the Chief Technology Officer of the Australian Government and 17 members of the local tech and business press. I like hanging out with reporters because I used to be one. I also know what I used to call ex-reporters with titles of “VP of Corporate Marketing. Flaks. Australia actually has a thriving press. There’s a half dozen actual paper newspapers in the hotel lobby every morning with lurid headlines about well endowed young women who died from Ecstasy overdoses. It was actually kind of great to schmooze with tech writers who had also worked for the late Pat McGovern at IDG, and in the published aftermath from the press conference they were more than kind even if one quoted me al s a company executive 11,000 miles away and another told me I looked like Jeff Bridges. The Big Lebowski version. Which means I must need a haircut.

A reporter interviewed me with an iPhone. I realize my mouth was hanging open, slack jawed, for most of the interview.


Wednesday morning I decided to check stuff out and went on a hike to North Head, a national park south of Manly that encompasses an old World War II artillery fortification for the coastal defense of Sydney. After a monster hill climb that turned me into aquaman, past the ubiquitous Crossfit box, I turned onto a trail and started getting lost in the outback of Manly. Signs warning of the endangered Bandicoots, bizarre birds, bees without stingers, skinks, gowannas, unseen marsupials, all of a sudden I was conscious that I wasn’t walking on the paved esplanade past the hotels and schnitzel shops, but in the bush where even the plants might kill me.


I found an army observation hut, went inside, expecting a gigantic spider attack, looked out the window for the Japanese Fleet, and seeing nothing but ocean all the way to the South Pole, went on my merry way, poking around a massive gun battery with a really big gun, then onto a very sombering memorial walk commemorating the Australian military a day after Veteran’s Day, the inscribed paving stones dotted with red paper poppies.

Then the pay off. The big view. A REALLY awesome view. Cliffs like you don’t want to fall off of. Surf booming 100 feet into the air. Time to break out the cellphone and take some pictures.clifs



After that expedition what is there to really say?  The people are really nice, healthy, drink in pubs they call hotels. Like their beer cold. Drive on the wrong side of the road. Are cheerful to strangers. Don’t push in lines and smile a lot. I couldn’t find “Australian cuisine” — but pieced together that “bugs” refer to lobsters of some sort, there is kangaroo meat on some menus, they are keen on Mexican food, the Thai is outstanding, and lamb on a pizza is a common thing.

Sydney is gorgeous, clean, cosmopolitan, and I even heard a didgeridoo by the ferries at Circular Quay.  Now I get to fly back to the dank cold darkness of New England and wonder what cliches we’re known for. Oh, and the English dumped a ton of criminals on the Puritans, so we Americans can embrace our convict heritage too.



Remembering Pat McGovern

“Boston, MA – March 20, 2014 – International Data Group IDG announced today with great sadness that its Founder and Chairman, Patrick J. McGovern, died March 19, 2014, at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California.”

via Remembering Pat McGovern | IDG.com.

I worked for Pat McGovern for eight months in 2005 when I was running online at CXO — the branch of IDG publishing that published CIO, CSO, CMO Magazines. I competed against his publications in the early 80s when I worked for PC Week, the arch-rival of IDG’s InfoWorld.

There are going to be a ton of Pat McGovern stories told over the next few days. Here’s mine.

While Pat was a lion in technology publishing he was also one of the first and most influential western businessmen to operate in the People’s Republic of China.  His presence in China, his reputation there to this very day, is legendary and made him the most well known and respected Westerner sin the Chinese tech sector. His VC investments in the likes of Baidu were early and massive successes. The man even spoke Mandarin.

During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics I was surprised to find myself riding in the back of a bus with Pat on our way to a private dinner with Lenovo’s senior executives and some heavy hitting senior execs from Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft, Intel, AMD, etc.. I saw him sitting alone in the back of the bus, so I sat down beside him and started chatting him up, thanking him for the opportunity to briefly work for him before quitting to join Lenovo. He was legendary for his photographic memory and immediately made the connection and started peppering me with questions.

As the bus crawled through traffic it was apparent that most everybody sitting within six rows of us was eaves-dropping on the conversation, most of them unaware of who Pat was. He was a big man but a soft spoken one; not at all brash or loud.  So I introduced him around  to the people in the adjacent seats as the first Westerner to do business in Communist China, well before Deng’s market reforms that led to “capitalism with Chinese characteristics” and unlocked the Chinese growth we marvel at today. I urged Pat to tell the bus the story of how he infiltrated China in the 1970s. The story went roughly like this: Pat was on a flight from Japan to Russia and figured out he could make a “connection” in Beijing. This is back in the era of Nixon-Mao and PingPong diplomacy. Let’s just say there were no princelings drag racing Ferrari’s around the third ring road back then. Anyway, the plane lands, Pat looks out the window, amazed he’s this close to the mysterious closed country. So he gets off the plane. The plane leaves without him. The Red Guard are confronted with this American standing in their airport essentially saying “Take me to your leader.”

Pat humbly regaled the bus for 30 minutes with the story of how he invaded China, set up the first Chinese tech publications, and earned the trust and respect of the Chinese government. When we arrived at the restaurant it was my Chinese colleagues who really lit up at the sight of him, hustling him away to a place of honor next to the chairman and CEO of Lenovo as befitted the father of Chinese computer journalism.

He was a genuinely great man. Here’s his story of how he entered China as captured in the official IDG oral history:

Continue reading “Remembering Pat McGovern”

Digital Governance in a Global Org

I spent part of past Wednesday at the the New York Googleplex with some fellow digital marketers and  agency people as part of Google’s Global Advisory Council.  I consider the content and conversations as unbloggable/off-the-record, but wanted to share  one excellent line from Scott McLaren at General Motors, who in the course of presenting how GM was able to centralize search marketing said:

Centralize the science and localize the art.”

That brilliant insight goes into my collection of business koans along with McKinsey’s Dick Foster’s line:  “Loosen control without losing control” and that anonymous jazzman who told another musician “If you don’t know what to do, then don’t do anything.”

What Scott summarized in that one-liner, is probably familiar to anyone in a global digital marketing role who has tried to evangelize a unified (credit to Carol Kruse at Coca-Cola for recommending “unified” over “centralized”) approach to planning, spending and executing a marketing discipline across many oceans and borders.

Decentralization is the rule in a massive global organization, a throw-back to the Roman Empire when the edges of the empire were too far away from the center of power in Rome and the Emperor had to divide c0ntrol between four Caesars. When I was at International Data Group in 2005 I felt the 1970s edict by owner and founder Pat McGovern that decentralization was the way the company would be organized and run was out of date and a worn out necessity born from a pre-fax/pre-email era, one that ignored the economies of scale of consolidating 300 websites onto a unified analytics and content management system.

Information Technology tends to consolidate and unify. The oldest story in the IT playbook is the hub, the router, the server, the data center.  All discussions of mesh architectures and complex matrixed “edge” computing models have been speculative structures, but in the end, the men in white coats want the users to be on dumb diskless workstations, working in unity off of one central processor. But – IT aside — money likes to be decentralized. If you want “feet on the street” to take accountability for sales targets, then you have to push fiscal responsibility down to the regional and country level — otherwise there will be no accountability or insights into local markets.

Back to McLaren’s statement and why I think search engine marketing must be centralized.

  • The auction model punishes organizations that have two or more people bidding on the same brand terms.  This is classic Three Stooges behavior. Search bids are science. Not art.
  • Analytical conformity. What’s the dashboard by which activities are going to be measured? How do you value search interactions and analyze search against other media in market? Can you compare the effects of a television campaign to searches? The answer is yes …. if you have a well controlled environment and are reasonably assured that your results are not being skewed by dealers, channel partners, or affiliates bidding on your branded terms against you. Analytics are science — not art.
  • Expertise. Most, if not all major search budgets are managed by search speciality agencies. They have to.  Search campaigns are complex, rigorous organisms that require deep, repeatable expertise. An agency accustomed to running complex global search for multiple clients will generally beat the efforts of a single internal operator or team of search operators. Dispersing SEM expertise regionally makes utterly no sense.

What else can be centralized in global digital marketing?

  • Display advertising, for the most part, can be negotiated, bought, trafficked, executed and measured centrally.
  • Display advertising should have a 15 or 20% set aside for local sites and local trafficking. There is art to display media plans, and local teams have the best insight into what local sites have local readership. That said — supporting many countries with many display media agencies is insane as non-working dollars explode and working dollars decline.

What can’t be centralized?

  • Display creative needs to be locally verified. Holiday promotions tend to drive ecommerce discounting and only a local team can declare St. Patrick’s Day over Golden Week.
  • Social media relations. Bloggers, forums, high profile users — all should be related to on a local, face to face basis. Local meetups and in-person relations are vital to any community efforts.

More later, but it was good to hear two very global, very capable marketers confirm the issues I’ve seen the past three years.  Digital marketing needs to be unified around IT, analytics, and discounted volume negotiations but localized around creative and customer/blogger relations.

IOC Exec Warns China Against Internet Censorship During Olympics – washingtonpost.com

IOC Exec Warns China Against Internet Censorship During Olympics – washingtonpost.com

From Staci Kramer at Paidcontent.org:

“With the Beijing Olympics roughly four months away, Kevan Gosper, vice chairman of the IOC coordinating commission, is warning organizers that the internet must be open during the games and that restrictions “would reflect very poorly” on China. AP quotes Gosper about raising the issue during the last official organizing meeting before the Beijing Olympics: “This morning we discussed and insisted again. … Our concern is that the press (should be) able to operate as it has at previous games. … There was some criticism that the Internet closed down during events relating to Tibet in previous weeks.” Gosper added: “I’m satisfied that the Chinese understand the need for this and they will do it.””

I remain optimistic that there will be open access to the critical tools need to enable our Lenovo Olympic Blogger program and that is Google’s Blogger and YouTube platforms, both of which have been particularly problematic from time to time due to the capricious nature of the “connection has been reset” phenomenon known as the Great Firewall. With the IOC permitting athlete blogs during the Games for the first time, there will be a great deal of pressure to maintain an open conduit of internet communications. With the world’s press on the scene as well as hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the world, I don’t see a tightening of access, but a relaxation.

Or at least so I hope. Fallows’ piece in the Atlantic Monthly remains the best FAQ on the situation.

The Gates Speech — Rebuilding Capitalism

Bill Gates — in the twilight of his technical career at Microsoft, on the eve of his new one in philanthropy at the helm of his Gates Foundation — is set to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, CH today to call for a “kinder, creative” capitalism (according to the subject line of the Wall Street Journal’s email alert this morning). This should be a classic Davos speech, the kind of thing captains of industry and heads of state and rock and roll front men want to discuss, and it should kick off a furious bout of analysis, guffaws, and more important, heavy thinking about the role of corporate social responsibility.

“”We have to find a way to make the aspects of capitalism that serve wealthier people serve poorer people as well,” Mr. Gates will tell world leaders at the forum, according to a copy of the speech seen by The Wall Street Journal.”

“Among the fixes he plans to call for: Companies should create businesses that focus on building products and services for the poor. “Such a system would have a twin mission: making profits and also improving lives for those who don’t fully benefit from market forces,” he plans to say.”

I strongly recommend a read of the Journal story, it’s a deep look at how the richest man in the world intends to leave his mark on the world, and that mark won’t look like this if he has his way.

Corporate Social Responsibility is due to be changed in some tangible ways. Lenovo is lucky to have Bill Stevenson guiding its efforts, and I’ll be interested in his thoughts on today’s speech by Gates. You can read Bill’s blog at Lenovoblogs.com

Jeff Jarvis is liveblogging from Davos and hits on the Gore/Bono-Google sessions.

Beijing this week

Sitting in a conference room discussing the forthcoming summer Olympics, amazingly uncrippled by jet lag … a post more appropriate for Twitter, but I’ve all but dropped Twitter as one of the most spectacularly useless toys I’ve played with this year.

I’ll blog on Olympic marketing later — I have the global web strategy and am presenting my plan tomorrow. The challenge is simple: what can an Olympic sponsor do online that users will actually care about and return to?

I think I have an idea.

This is a short trip. Three full days in country, four nights, not a lot of exploration or out of office experiences — unlike last year’s first trip where I spent a lot of time meeting Chinese internet companies.

Digital Influence Mapping Project: Hong Kong Bloggers

Digital Influence Mapping Project: Hong Kong Bloggers Pt 1

Ogilvy PR’s John Bell is doing the China thing and blogging some interesting stuff about Chinese blogs. One interesting point is that Hong Kong bloggers sometimes run a mirror inside of the Great Firewall to insure uninterrupted readership within mainland China. Bell writes about the difficulty of identifying influential blogs through western measures such as Technorati. Good stuff.

“We are holding an Asia Pacific regional meeting of our Digital Influence team in the region. This is super-exciting due to the caliber of folks in the region. And the meetings are a lot more fun than they sound. We shared our videos from BlogHer and Vloggercon, as well as our really comprehensive approach to digital influence with each other. There are tremendous insights from each region.”

Important post by Rebecca MacKinnon on Chinese net censorship


I ran into the same phenomenon during my Beijing trip. Western hand-wringing over the Great Firewall is sometimes met with indifference or indignance:

“I’ve met with local Internet entrepreneurs, bloggers, Westerners doing business here in the Chinese Internet sector, some diplomats, and some low-level bureaucrats. I’m struck by the degree of disconnect between what the international human rights and free speech community is intending to do, and the way the criticisms of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! are perceived here on the ground. While the leading international free speech and human rights activists view corporate collaboration in Chinese censorship as part of a global problem which will have a major impact on the future of the internet and free speech worldwide, most people in China who are aware of the issue see the debate mainly in terms of whether or not Internet companies should engage in China. They also see it as part of a larger political agenda to demonize China, or as an effort by Americans to tell the Chinese how to run their country. (See the essay by Chinese blogger Michael Anti, himself no fan of censorship being victim of it himself: “The freedom of Chinese netizens is not up to the Americans.”)

China Tech Stories: Summary of Search Market in China

China Tech Stories: Summary of Search Market in China

Interesting report at China Tech Stories of tech.163.com’s report on the state of search in China. This graph shows — in green — Baidu’s current domination, but Google is coming on strong, contradicting the anecdotal trashing the company received at the hands of the Chinese users I spoke with last month in Beijing.

Google is even better when it comes to monetizing search. Maoxianjia’s analysis:

“First, Baidu has gained commanding lead in both usage and popularity reach. However, Baidu’s monetization on search is still very limited.

“Secondly, the data pretty much prove Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s remark that the China market is up for grabs. In such a short time, from Aug to Dec. 2005, Google has grabbed 14.4% of the market share in revenues in China which is quite remarkable.”

And in related China internet news, some squawking over the Chinese character domains — the censorship crowd is crying manipulation of traffic — me, it seems logical that you’d have domain names in the same character set as the users, no? Separate issue from who issues and controls the domains.

And finally, read somewhere yesterday that some pundit is predicting 60 million Chinese blogs within a year.