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Does talent matter?

Does talent matter? Of course it does. But how that talent is deployed within an organizational design matters more.

Every day and nine times on Sunday you pick Michael Jordan first (sorry Hakeem and Sam) for kickball, basketball or whatever because talent is talent and like every coach or manager in the world would say you can’t coach talent. People have it or they don’t.

Most of us lead highly matrixed (particularly in PR and marketing) teams so I would never argue with the virtue to hire the smartest, most talented people you can find. But it won’t matter if you can’t put those people into a system that makes the most of that talent at scale and over time.

It took Michael Jordan seven seasons (and a banged up Lakers team) to win his first NBA Championship. It took getting him into the vaunted triangle offense and building a supporting cast of characters around him for him to became the greatest basketball player ever. Without that triangle offense (what we office workers would call organizational design) Michael Jordan, dare I say, may have become the Dr. J of his time: great talent, amazing jumping ability and bring-the-house-down dunks but not the greatest ever.

In public relations and marketing, how you organize talent matters immensely because of the need for scale, repetition and consistency every day. No one thinks of it, but PR is closer to operating like finance than you think. Just like finance with its need to consistently report the same figures across multiple channels, PR and marketing programs and messages must be repeated consistently plus the added degree of difficulty in localizing those programs at a consumer level all around the world. It would be like the CFO having to report earnings or a Form 10-K simultaneously in multiple languages, media and channels in Asia, Europe and North America everyday.

That’s today’s marketing.

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The only way to ensure that is an organizational design that allows your people to focus on executing programs instead of wasting time with administration or office politics that are typical of lower functioning companies. Michael Jordan wouldn’t be the legend he is now if he spent his career worrying about where his teammates should be standing when the ball was in play or if Scottie Pippen was upset about the email exchange from earlier in the day. The triangle offense and great personnel management took care of that and allowed Jordan to be much more than his God-given talent.

Unless you are Bruce Almighty’s boss, you can’t control for how many uber talented people were born in 1975 and are now in the job market. But you can control for where you put those people once you find them.

When I got to LinkedIn to run international corporate communications, there were essentially two PR teams: the one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. (which served as the hub for PR agency teams in 6 European countries). The two were loosely tied but served different agendas. After opening and launching offices in India and Australia I set to organize the international PR functions into a single group that worked in concert with the U.S.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t about staffing at all.

PR in Europe was being led by two incredibly hard working and sharp people – who spent a big chunk of their time managing and administering 6 different PR firms in 6 different countries. The rest of their time was spent managing internal teams in London and reporting into Mountain View. Not enough time was being spent on executing actual strategies and programs in each of these countries that drove member growth and engagement with the product. 

We reorganized the internal and agency structure to allow them all to execute on market and customer facing programs and less time reporting to each other. Instead of my internal team serving as the administrative hub in London to each of 6 agencies operating in each of the 6 countries, we moved to a single agency (5 less invoices, contracts, weekly calls and monthly reports) with the hub relocated to Spain. And, in this new model the agency served as hub (not my internal staff) and was comprised of a multicultural and multilingual team that could execute media relations and content campaigns from central Europe into each of the 6 countries. It allowed my remaining internal PR staffer to have a single point of contact on the agency team, which freed up his time to coordinate strategic direction with LinkedIn leadership in London and Mountain View.

I can’t tell you how much money we saved, but that happened, too.

- Jose Mallabo

 

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Top 5 things I am looking forward to at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

On July 26 SCAD’s Sequential Art program will be hosting a small booth-like presence across the street from Comic-Con in San Diego at the Wired Cafe at the Omni Hotel. Having lived in San Diego back when Comic-Con wasn’t quite the socio-entertainment global geekfest that it is today — I am really looking forward to the trek from Savannah to the place I called home for so long. But mostly I am looking forward to:

  1. Unleashing a small squadron from my dusty fleet of cool and slightly off-putting t-shirts and calling it business attire. On day 1 of the conference I will either wear my “I’m not sleepy, I’m Asian” or my “Brown Man Rising” shirt. Tweet suggestions to @josemallabo.
  2. Seeing and hearing what 130,000 geeks, celebrities, media, groupies and doodlers looks and sounds like so I can finally answer the question that’s been playing in my head for years: “Who would win in a street fight between fans of Comic-Con and the Super Bowl?” My money is on Comic-Con not because they outnumber Super Bowl attendees almost 2-to-1, but because they’ve conceived an alternate reality where wearing capes isn’t weird and super powers exist.
  3. Being in a group of people where I know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not the only one who has ever worn a Lieutenant Uhura uniform (replete with the wig and ear piece.) 
  4. Chilling out at Wired Cafe with all the entertainment muckety mucks to see if someone will finally admit to me that the Oscar for Best Picture awarded to The English Patient was a result of a lost bet.
  5. Just being in San Diego — home for one of my alma maters and the place where I’ve consumed the most quesadillas after 2 a.m.

Good things to know if you’re going to Comic-Con  

Black Widow

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13 Signs you might be an Internet entrepreneur

13. You know the up and down connectivity speeds to your house

12. You can rattle off your IP address faster than your SSN

11. Your focus and visualization skills are good enough to make beef jerky taste like steak

10. You keep your house at 68 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the server comfortable

9. Before you go to bed you move the laundry to make room for your iPad and laptop

8. When you travel, the first question in the morning is to your co-founder sleeping across the room: “Dude, what’s the Wi-Fi login?”

7. When you travel, you stay in the kind of hotel where your car is parked right outside the door

6. You know the current time in Delhi and today’s date but have no clue what day of the week it is

5. You think Tom’s Shoes is a great authentic story of doing social good but wouldn’t wear them

4. You know the exact cost of your healthcare coverage and what’s included – or read this and realized you don’t have any

3. Your mom sends you links to some site called Monster.com

2. You miss @arrington

Number 1 sign you might be an Internet entrepreneur:  All of the above is pretty much how you planned it except Arrington leaving TechCrunch. Still miffed about that one.

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You’re soooo good lookin’!

Discover Mosaic

 

 

 

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Why hasn’t PR made measurement core to its function? Q&A with Forrest Anderson

I’ve been kicking around the idea of doing a post about research and measurement in PR for some time. Namely, I really want to ask why PR hasn’t done a better job making this core to the function when there are scads of resources on the subject.  Frankly, I’m not the expert on this subject as I’ve spent more of my career creating content than measuring how it impacts the audiences its intended for.  Despite having an advanced degree in this area, I’m guilty as charged.   Instead I reached out to my former colleague — Forrest W. Anderson who is not just a measurement expert but one of the sharpest communications strategists I’ve been around in my career.

Below is an un-edited Q&A I had with him this week.  My questions.  His answers.  My parenthetical interjections.

Q: What is the single most important thing people need to remember when looking to measure the impact of communications programs?

A: The single most important thing people need to remember when looking to measure the impact of a communications program is their definition of impact, which should come from the initial, measurable objectives of the program.  If you’re trying to change behavior (increase sales, reduce employee turnover, etc.) you should try to measure that change in behavior.  If you’re trying to change awareness and/or attitudes, you should measure changes in awareness and/or attitudes.  Most likely you would do this with a pre- and post-program survey.  If you’re trying to increase media coverage, then you might measure clips.  If you’re trying to increase positive media coverage, then you need not only to count clips but assess the tone of the content in those clips.

Q: What is the most common mistake you see companies making in buying measurement and research?

A: To me, the most common mistake I see companies make when they do invest in measurement and research is they focus more on evaluation (or measurement) and less on the research they should do to plan the program. The first step in any program should be to articulate a measurable objective.  The next step should be to do research on the target audiences and the business environment so you know what kinds of messages and concepts will appeal to the target audience, which media reach the target audience and what’s going on in the world that might affect the way your target audience will react to your intended messages.  The evaluation piece is fairly straightforward, if you’ve created a solid measurable objective for the program.

The measurable objective is a big stumbling point.  Without one, you cannot evaluate.  This is why so many companies that invest in media evaluation systems that use online data bases are disappointed after a year of using the service.  Neither the client organization nor the evaluation system vendor thinks out what the measurable objectives should be for any given program.  It frequently turns out, then, that there is a mismatch between what the tool measures and what the organization wants to achieve.

Q: Communications research has been around a long time, why haven’t PR people done a better job making it core to their programs and the industry?

A: I think there are a number of reasons.

  • In the past it has been expensive relative to the investment in the program, so there was a question regarding whether you should spend the money trying to get more results or measuring what you achieved.  The online systems have made clip analysis less expensive than in the past, and we can also do surveys online for much less than in the past.
  • Some communications professionals are afraid of what they will find out if they measure.  An agency, for example, might not want its client to learn that a program had not achieved the goals the client requested or the agency promised.  This is a very unprofessional point of view because there is no way anyone can improve as a professional if they do not measure the effectiveness of what they do, learn from it and try to do better.  The same situation exists for some internal communications departments, with organizational executives taking the client role and the communications departments acting like agencies.  Again this is too bad.  There is a fair amount of anecdotal and some scholarly evidence that communications departments that do evaluate are more highly thought of by the CEOs of their companies than are those that do not evaluate.
  • Last, but certainly not least, I believe many people go into public relations to avoid having to deal with numbers and numerical analysis.

(So true. I’ve lost count how many PR people have said to me “I’m not good with numbers.” Cop out.  Reading cross tabs isn’t that hard. And who hasn’t had a client that was BS-ing his boss about results?)

Q: CEO’s often just want to pay for clippings and see their names in headlines, how do you get past this?

A: If a CEO is that shallow, you’re going to have a number of operational problems in the organization that probably will outweigh communications issues.  These will only be the tip of the ice berg.  That said, the best way I know to influence CEOs is with data.  If a senior communications person believes the organization should be doing something, he or she should look for data that supports their point of view and present it to the CEO.  For example, if our communications executive (CE) believes the main competitor is winning partly because of the good media coverage it is getting vs. the poor media coverage the CE’s company is getting, a quantitative report demonstrating this would be more likely to sway the CEO than just saying “I think we should do this.”

I once did a $200,000 communications audit for the U.S. subsidiary of a European owned company.  The whole purpose of the audit was to demonstrate to the European owner that the U.S. subsidiary needed to invest in public relations.  The study made the case and HQ supported a major increase in PR funding.

Q: Is social media helping or hurting research and measurement in communications?

A: I would say social media is confusing research and measurement in communications.  What it is helping is dialog. In the past, there were very few direct communications channels open between an organization and its stakeholders, so market research gave management insight into who comprised a stakeholder group, what they cared about, what they thought, etc.  However, with social media, organizations can actually communicate directly with stakeholders, assuming stakeholders wish to communicate with the organization.  This is great!

The danger comes when an organization begins to believe that a handful of active users of social media users represent the entire stakeholder group.  There can be a big difference between what a few vocal individuals think and what most the population thinks. So, I believe social media is a wonderful way to get some insight into stakeholder groups, but I also think we need to be very careful about extrapolating that insight to larger populations.  I do not believe social media is a replacement for research.

(I agree with that. And think the hype and sex appeal of social has done a lot to distract companies from focusing on the basics — like research and measurement. People are off building Facebook pages when they haven’t even studied their core audiences to see how they interact with existing PR content and programs.)

Q: Is agenda setting theory still valid?

A: Unless I misunderstand your question, the agenda setting theory is based on the idea that the media sets the news agenda by choosing which topics to cover.  Thus the news media exerts great influence over not only the topics its audience thinks about but also how the audience thinks about those topics.  I’m not sure I ever completely bought into this theory, because I believe good journalists tried to choose topics that were of interest to their audiences and did some research with their audiences to determine what these topics were.  So, the influencers were influenced by those they influenced.

Whether this last bit was true in the past or not, it is certainly true now.  Anyone with access to the Internet can publish now, and very many do.  Tools such as Twitter’s “Trending” will tell you which topics (or key words) are being discussed the most at any given time, and journalists can and do use those kinds of tools to choose the topics they cover.  I would say the influenced are influencing the influencers more than ever before.  However, this is just a theory.  I don’t have data on this.

Q: If you could build a strategic communications program for Facebook, what would it look like?

A: This sounds like what should be a paying gig.

I told you he was sharp.  It really should be a paying gig.

-Jose Mallabo

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Middle Management is…

A few weeks ago I posted about giving employees their due. Time to move up the food chain a bit. Let’s go to middle management, alternately seen as bottlenecks, conduits, or a*#holes depending on your position beside, below or above them.

Since Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the end all for defining what we don’t want to ourselves, let’s see what they have to say.

Middle management is a layer of management in an organization whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of subordinates while reporting to upper management.”

Wow, that doesn’t sound like something you’d study at Harvard! Sounds more like something the secret police would have been doing in any Middle Eastern dictatorship currently in the throes of being overthrown.

Lest you doubt, it only takes a few word substitutions to make my point:

“The Secret Police is a layer of control in a government whose primary job responsibility is to monitor activities of its citizens while reporting to the king/president for life.”

Middle management or secret police?

It’s hard to believe no one from middle management has caught this “big-bro-like” wiki entry so far. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy monitoring subordinates and reporting on their activities. Or maybe it’s because they’re busting their chops and other parts of their body trying to motivate staff, oversee budgets, and communicate increasingly complex information with fewer people, less money and time, and often incomplete or even incoherent data. Yet, US companies have been hedging much of their success on the ability of this mid-level to do it all, while the people they manage are wondering why they can’t.

Over the past year, I’ve managed communication effectiveness projects for some of the best known companies in the US and two themes have been most prevalent:

  • middle management is seen as being ineffective communicators, and
  • employees want to get more information from their middle managers.

This is quite a dilemma – it’s almost like saying my elected officials are doing a crappy job, but I want them to be better at telling me that. Oh wait…

About twenty some odd years ago, upper management decided computers and automated business decision software would make middle management obsolete. Then the economic downturn of the late 80s became a well-timed trigger for massive lay-offs of middle managers. What upper management failed to realize is that while computers are good at managing data, they’re really bad at managing people. Guess what, they still are. But it’s as if no one above the equivalent of a staff sergeant pay grade in the Army remembers that. Just look at how many mid-level managers lost their jobs in this last go round!

So what’s the solution? Match the tools with the expectation. If you want mid-level managers to be good to great mid-level managers, give them the management, communication and financial tools to do that. Reward them for using them, instead of punishing them for not having the time to ask where to find them.

More importantly, change up that definition to something more compelling and less “big bro-like.” How about this: “Middle managers are role models to their employees.”

Anything more than that and you might as well head to the Middle East.

-Aaron Heinrich

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Social vs. professional graph: Are the days of separate online identities numbered?

About 6 months ago I posted something on my Facebook account that had nothing to do with work.   It was a rant about a sales guy trying to sell me something completely unnecessary for my motorcycle.  Two days later, a friend on Facebook and superior at work asked me about it at work – the implication being that I was ranting about the workplace – where we ironically extolled that the social graph (or identity/profile) was and should be separate from the professional graph.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been emphatic about a singular online identity – which obviously paves the way for Facebook Connect to be the way people log in anywhere online.  He’s quoted three times in The Facebook Effect saying: “You have one identity.”

And that…“The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly.” Further challenging the current separation of the social and professional graphs by saying: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Well, we know how he feels about it.

In turn, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner has maintained that the separation between social and professional graphs is vital to professionals and to LinkedIn.  At last fall’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco — in his “keg stand” interview — he told John Batelle:

“While many of us in college probably were at parties having a good time, doing things like keg stands, or being exposed to keg stands, I don’t know that many of us would look forward to having a prospective employer have access to picture of those events.”

Who’s right? I’m less confident in the separation between the two than I was just 24 hours ago.

At a recent Ragan social media conference I attended, Shel Holtz echoed Facebook’s stance in his own inimitable and convincing way.  Of course, I Tweeted at him about this while he was presenting.

If I’m answering Shel literally, I’d say “see the first paragraph of this post.”

But I had to test this just a liiiiittle bit more.  The attendees of this conference were a better cross section of U.S. professionals than the early-adopting, Banana Republic-wearing, all technology-loving dot.com crowds that populated the early social media conferences. Insurance. Federal and municipal governments. Universities. Healthcare organizations. And, even the country’s largest cemetary.

They were all in the house — represented by professionals from every generation in the workforce today.

These are people working for really big, very regulated, widely and deeply impactful organizations from never-go-away industries — all there trying to figure out where to place their social media bets and budgets.  Shel’s point may be the most thought provoking point made out of all the sessions.  Because none of us are over-staffed or walking around with extra dollars pouring out of our back pockets, picking one may be a choice we’re forced to make.

So I put the question to the attendee group to see what they thought about the separation or blurring of social and professional graphs.  That group was on Facebook.  I’ll post the comments as they come in.

I’m not a Dead Head, but as I sit here during business hours while at the dealer getting my car repaired working on a post that has benefits to both my professional and personal brand, it’s hard not to think that maybe Shel has spoken for many of us.

My car is ready.  Back to the work.

- Jose Mallabo

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Social Exuberance

I’ve lived through a couple of bubbles in my time – dot.com and housing come to mind, anyone?  And something tells me the longer I’m around the more I’m going to have to live through.

Is social media another one of them? Maybe. Is a market cap of $80 billion for Facebook rational? Alan Greenspan must be trying his damnedest to make those old thumbs Tweet #social-exuberance.

Exuberant smile? Greenspan retired a while ago.

It strikes me that my framed Pets.com certificates and my wall have more than a nail in common – both were worth a hell of a lot more when I bought them (yeah, that was a stretch, thanks for sticking with me on that one). So now that I’ve said it, let me compare the stock market bubble to the housing market bubble to see what these bubbles might have in common.

There are basically three ways to value a stock, and they are pretty much the same as how the real estate market valued my wall.

My house:

  • Price per square foot (adjusted for how nice the stuff in my square footage is)
  • How much an identical house in my neighborhood sold for
  • Make shit up

A stock:

  • Discounted cash flows (predictions of how much money a company will make in future years, adjusted for how fast they will grow and how long they might last)
  • What comparable “peer” companies are trading at (adjusted for cash, debt (including options), assets and risks)
  • Make shit up

Both Facebook and Amazon have market caps of around $80 billion ($82.9 billion secondary market estimate for Facebook on 1/28, $76.8 billion actual market cap for Amazon on 1/28).  So if they were houses, and I was pre-qualified for an $83 billion mortgage, I could take my pick (well, my wife would, let’s stay grounded here).

As far as revenues go, estimates for Facebook for 2010 are around $2 billion while Amazon is on track for something north of $30 billion. In housing terms, Facebook is listing a very funky two bedroom loft conversion while Amazon is listing a 30-bedroom ancestral estate. So, there are either some really, really nice upgrades in that loft or there are 28 secret bedrooms priced into the deal.

Yes, an $80 billion estimate for Facebook is likely high. And yes, Facebook and Amazon don’t have identical business models.  But yes, the same people who sold me Pets.com shares are the same people who collateralized my mortgage and are the same people selling Facebook shares to foreign investors to avoid SEC regulations.

That must be one amazing loft.  I need to go check it out, I do need more wall space.

-Reid Cox

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Giving employees their due

I’ve been at this business of communications longer than I sometime care to consider. Longer if you count the first mono-syllabic utterance that escaped from my infant lips that was in no way tied to the gaseous expulsion resulting from lactose intolerance. (That would come later in life, but I digress.)

It's not that much of a stretch to talk to your employees

Consequently, what has struck me the most often is the chasm that exists between external and internal communications or the utter lack of integration between what gets communicated externally with what gets communicated internally.  When it comes to big news and even bigger campaigns, employees are often “brought up to speed,” then forced to sit on the sidelines as they hear the news after the fact.

While the irony of missing the boat with the company’s “greatest asset” has often seemed evident, it often also didn’t seem to matter. That chasm between external and internal comms was too great and most likely would never be crossed without some incredible stretching super powers like those of Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four…or real collaboration between the heads of employee communications and marketing.

The sad part is that the chasm appears to show no signs of closing except in the halls of the companies that sit somewhere in that nirvana of management otherwise known as enlightenment. The economy continues to give many organizations an excuse to do really stupid things.

What’s the problem here?  It’s not as if the situation has gone without a considerable amount of attention. Management gurus have been making hefty consulting fees trying to solve the problem for decades. MBA programs at prestigious universities have raised millions over the years to study it. And enough trees have been cut and ink run to publish a library of reading material large enough to fill the state of Delaware. The best that seems to have come out of this predicament is a somewhat heightened recognition that employees want to know what’s going on with their place of employment before their 14 year- old nephew sees it on YouTube and creates an anti-authoritarian themed mash-up.

Lest you think I jest, look at the intranet of any major company(although doing so would mean you’d have to either be an employee, a consultant or a university professor in a prestigious MBA program writing about it.) They’re often poorly organized, lacking in design and the search function was better on the internet in 1994! Yet that same company could very well have the latest in interactive gizmos and whatchacallits on its corporate internet site, along with Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and yammer. And the search works!

Is most of corporate America clueless when it comes to the potential power of integrating an internal employee communication program with that of an external branding campaign? Is it too hard to consider that employees want to be an advocate and will be if you give them the tools and rewards for doing so? It shouldn’t be that difficult. Even airlines still treat their frequent fliers better!

While in an era of high unemployment and economic uncertainty, the easy route for the less enlightened might be to not give this a thought, a quick look back at history proves that nothing lasts forever. The economy will start to drift up again, more companies will start hiring, and employees who’ve not been engaged will more than likely pick up and leave. There goes the corporate gene pool.

You have to ask yourself…is it really worth it to risk keeping your employees on the sideline with a lack of information and inclination, or do you want them out there more informed than your best customer and more enthusiastic than your best salesman? Give them their due and they’ll more than likely give you their all.

I know there are examples out there of companies who “get it” – Nike and FedEx come to mind. But I could probably stop counting the number of big corporations that “get it” in full measure by the time I reach the middle finger of my second hand.  And that’s not the finger you want to see when your employees leave to work for a company that “gets” the idea of integration.

-Aaron Heinrich, Communications Consultant

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If my George Foreman grill could order meat it would be a Kindle

If my George Foreman grill could order meat, it would be as important to kitchen appliances as the Kindle is to the book and e-commerce industries.  In June, this ZDNet blogger said he felt the Kindle’s days were numbered because of the iPad.  But just this month ZDNet posted a story that outlines wall street analyst projections that Amazon sold 4 million Kindles in the fourth quarter alone — and is projected to sell 10 million more in 2011.  I just got my Kindle this past Christmas and love it like the year 1987 and the 2002 World Series. (That’s a hyperbole.)

My two favorite Christmas presents

Since getting the Kindle, I’ve spent $475 on Amazon.com (about double what the typical Amazon customer spends per year) — only $20 for e-books. Obviously, the Kindle is my personal gateway drug back to Amazon.com. And it’s far easier to clean than my George Foreman grill.  See smashed left thumb.

Dear Jeff Bezos, You now have 121 122 million customers. I’m back.

Everyone wants to talk iPad vs. Kindle.  Not so fast. The Kindle is different than my iPad.  It replaces paper books while my iPad seems to replace part of my laptop, TV, MP3 player and portable DVD player that I never did buy. The beauty of the Kindle is that it doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. Like the Cadillac CTS-V Coupe that tries to be a BMW 6 Series and a Corvette at the same time.

The book is dead.  Long live the Kindle.

- Jose Mallabo

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