How to Avoid Huge Hotel Long-Distance Charges

When Lisa and I arrived last night (after about an hour trying to find the resort in the dark, when it was not well signed, and because of the road construction detour), we realized that even though we had two different cell phone carriers (Sprint and T-Mobile), neither of them had any reception because the resort is so remote.

We had to get in touch with our kids to at least get them our hotel room number, and after making three calls we realized the hotel charge was $2.55 per call + toll + 40 percent mark-up.

Until then, I had heard of Skype, but hadn’t had a reason to use it. For those who don’t know, Skype is like Vonage, except it’s free. It lets you call other Skype users for free, using your computer’s built-in microphone and a broadband internet connection. Calling a U.S. cell phone or land line costs 2.1 cents per minute, and until the end of 2006, even that is free.

With mobile phones having free mobile-to-mobile minutes, pay phones are essentially a thing of the past. I bet most people don’t use hotel phones, either. But if you have a broadband connection in a remote place, Skype works great. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even reduce my monthly cell phone minutes if we can talk on the computer for free.

I know I’ve saved at least $15 with Skype since this morning.

WHPR-Snapper

I’m at the Wisconsin Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society annual meeting in Green Lake, Wisc. I’m listening to Gerard Braud deliver a session in the Media Relations track called “Profit form Communications.”

He started out with a list of things communications professionals can and should bring to the table, if they want the proverbial “seat at the table.”

    Media Training – When doctors say everything they know in an interview, you never know what message will come through in the story. That’s why it’s important to do media training so the key messages get through to the audience.

    Crisis Communications Plan – Gerard showed some really bad examples of crisis communications plans with no calling trees and no detail. He also said that when hospitals do disaster drills they should rent a mob of reporters to show up at the ER and also have people posing as family members of accident victims calling to jam the switchboard, because in a real disaster those things would happen. PR professionals should have the crisis plan with an exact “what to do, step by step” in a three-ring binder.

    Presentation Training – You never know who might be in a presentation and blogging about it (including me!) Doctors who go to medical meetings should be aware of this, and communications professionals should take the lead in getting them prepared.

    Ambassador Training – Techniques and tools to change the direction of an awkward conversation.

He showed a great piece he had edited of Mayor Ray Nagin and his “chocolate” remarks on Martin Luther King Day, as an example of his principle: “If you could attach a dollar to every word that comes out of your mouth, would you make money, or would you lose money?” Ray Nagin lost money for New Orleans.

Gerard gave a strong presentation. I’ve been a co-presenter with him at previous conferences, but never had attended one of his sessions because of conflicts. I’m glad I got to hear him. You can contact him at gerard@braudcommunications.com, or through his blog.

More on WHPRMS, our experience getting to Heidel House Resort and our lack of phone access in a later post.

Radio without Radio

Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine has written much about the explosion of TV and how newspapers need to re-think their role in the changing media landscape. Today I came across another example of how the media landscape is changing, as Desiring God Ministries is taking its daily half-hour radio program featuring Dr. John Piper off the 160 local radio stations that have carried it, and is moving to internet-only distribution (with a CD subscription option for the technologically challenged.)

Here’s how Executive Director Jon Bloom describes the rationale:

Why is this? Well, there are a number of reasons. But one simple fact is that radio is changing. Just a few years ago traditional radio was still the best way for a ministry like ours to make our message accessible to the largest number of people. But we are finding that this is no longer the case. A rapid technological evolution is occurring. Five years ago most adults in the U.S. did not have access to the internet. Today most use the internet regularly and most have broadband access. Five years ago few regularly used portable MP3 players. Today the popularity of these portable devices is skyrocketing. 59 million iPods have been purchased since October 2001—30 million of those so far this year! What’s happening is that more and more listeners are choosing these new technologies over radio so that they may listen to teaching programs whenever and wherever they wish. This is especially true of those under 50 years old, who comprise the great majority of our listeners.

Bloom highlights the criteria the Desiring God Board used for evaluating the most effective ways to invest its ministry resources: they are looking for means that are accessible, portable, transferable and economical. On the last point, spending $500,000 per year for air time on 160 local radio stations when 25 times as many people respond and contact the ministry through the internet delivery doesn’t seem like a wise use of resources.

If you listen to last Friday’s program, the radio finale, Dr. Piper discusses in more detail the reasoning behind the switch, and his philosophy of wanting to make the message accessible as broadly as possible (it is a world wide web) and without cost to the listener.

In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson describes how inventory costs and delivery costs approaching zero, combined with search, make many ventures economically feasible that would not work in the bricks-and-mortar world. This is another example of how that principle works, so that even a ministry that gives away its “product” for free, and makes it a point to not ask for contributions during the program, can thrive in the exploded world of radio.

Think about it. With 160 local radio stations the audience is limited to those markets. On the web, anyone, anywhere can hear. To paraphrase the words of Jesus, “Search, and you will find.”

Even better, in being freed from the format constraints of a 30-minute over-the-air broadcast, programs like Desiring God Radio, which are created from Sunday morning sermons that may average 40-45 minutes, can carry the entire message instead of splitting it into two overlapping segments.

As Robert Scoble pointed out, Leo LaPorte surveyed 20,000 podcast users and found that for podcasts, more is more.

That’s the Long Tail beauty of not having to aggregate a huge audience. The message doesn’t have to be dumbed down and reduced to the lowest common denominator to get ratings points. People who want to hear want more detail and depth, whether it’s the technical audience Leo surveyed or the spiritually interested group Dr. Piper reaches.

Testing a Medical Edge podcast on YouTube

One concern I have about YouTube is whether the quality of the movies remains good when they are converted into Flash files. To test it I used a Mayo Clinic Medical Edge video podcast file, so I can see what the quality of YouTube is like, knowing that the starting file was of high quality. Let’s take a look:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5Np4EhwTQM]

What do you think?

No Mega Children’s Hospital in Twin Cities

The Star Tribune (registration required) reports today that the merger of Twin Cities children’s hospitals announced with much fanfare in May has been scuttled.

Some in the health care industry thought that finally, after 10 years of off-and-on merger talks, the metro area would have one world-class pediatric hospital instead of two competing institutions each with its own medical specialists and high-tech equipment.

But after four months of intensive negotiations, the latest effort to merge Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota with the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital came to an unsuccessful end Friday.

“We just couldn’t make it work,” said Dr. Frank Cerra, senior vice president for health sciences at the University of Minnesota. “We worked to take all of the pieces and pull them together in a way that makes financial sense, but found it was just not possible.”

The merger talks seem to be off permanently this time, as one executive was quoted as saying, “I don’t anticipate that this is going to reemerge.”