Do you think we’re in a world of fragmenting media and distress in advertising?” asks Pete Blackshaw.

He’s looking into a video camera, wearing an Ocktoberfest baseball cap and blue polo. He turns toward his recently turned-2-year-old daughter, Leila, who is sitting on his lap.

“Yeah,” she says, nodding a head of wispy blonde hair.

“OK,” he continues. “Do you think that advertisers talked too much about their achievements in Ad Week last week as opposed to reflecting on their opportunities?”

Leila, all business, doesn’t hesitate. “Yeah,” she says decisively.

Blackshaw, executive vice president of Nielsen Online Strategic Services, is quoted regularly in publications like the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek as an expert in interactive marketing. He coined the term “consumer-generated media” (now known as CGM), and his first book on consumer-centered marketing will be published this summer. But working at a high level in a growing company and becoming an author is just the beginning for Blackshaw, who is more proud of being a “consumer” or a “parental expert” than an industry guru.

The recorded video with his daughter, posted on his Web 2.0 Dads group on Facebook, only brushes the surface of his many sites, blogs and projects. That might be why Leila’s answer was a definite affirmative to whether “Daddy gets up too early to do e-mail in the morning.”

“He has more energy than practically anyone I’ve ever met,” says Ran Mullins, who previously worked with Blackshaw in Over-the-Rhine to attract new technology businesses there. “Pete is an incredible evangelist. Once he decides something is important, no one can hide from him reaching them with his message.” And since Blackshaw began his marketing career at P&G, that message has been a call toward a new business model: one in which companies use new forms of media and communication to keep intimately in touch with consumers’ opinions and needs.

Blackshaw has put Cincinnati on the map in the interactive marketing world, a feat that has gone largely unnoticed, according Raymond L. Buse III, director of public relations for the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. But Blackshaw doesn’t intend to stop until Cincinnati reaches its full potential. “He’s one of those kind of visionaries that can literally turn a city around,” Buse observes. “He is absolutely right that Cincinnati can be a great hub of innovation, of new technologies, and he’s living proof of it.”

Technology Rock Star

“OK, now look down the river,” instructs the photographer.

Blackshaw is in his backyard — a somewhat rare commodity in Mt. Adams. He is more excited and self-conscious about being the sole subject of a photo shoot for a local magazine than one would expect. After all, his recent national exposure includes a photo on the front page of Advertising Age this past summer and a New York Times feature on Nielsen BuzzMetrics last year. He's also been interviewed multiple times on national television. But Blackshaw, a native of Pasadena, Ca., shows unrelenting excitement for his “adopted hometown,” and when he does look down the river, he sees something others do not. “I still think there’s enormous potential for this region to become a technology rock star,” he says. People may scoff, but Blackshaw doesn’t waver. “It makes me cringe every time someone suggests only the East or West Coasts can do this.”

When Blackshaw was planning his first internet-based entrepreneurial venture in 1999, plenty of “outsiders” tried to convince him to head to the coasts. But he believed in Cincinnati’s benefits, such as its deep understanding of the marketing industry and a relatively low “burn rate” — the cost of starting a business.

Combine those factors with the city’s civic pride and leadership, Blackshaw says, and Greater Cincinnati is in a perfect position to take advantage of today’s dramatically changing marketing landscape: one in which the consumer is in control. Businesses and cities like Cincinnati must utilize the public conversations online in places like message boards, blogs and reviews — that “consumer-generated media” — to their advantage. That’s what Blackshaw helps his clients do at Nielsen BuzzMetrics: interpret data collected by technologies that monitor those online communications and extract the feelings, opinions and trends generated.

Blackshaw realized the power and efficiency of the internet as a tool to gauge the desires of the public early in his career, which began with his first job out of the University of California at Santa Cruz. Then-California State Sen. Art Torres took a chance on the young graduate, hiring Blackshaw as a legislative aide and press secretary — only on the condition that Torres was frequently mentioned in the Los Angeles Times.

Blackshaw succeeded and stayed with Torres, working on legislation dealing with the Hispanic community, education reform and consumer issues. After five years, Torres encouraged Blackshaw to pursue his master’s degree in business, so he enrolled at Harvard.

Blackshaw imagined that after he graduated he would come back to California and run for political office, but his 1994 placement at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati for a summer internship changed those plans. “The internet was just finding its voice” then, Blackshaw explains. He was fascinated with the potential of the new tool, and that’s when what he calls his “obsession” with consumer-centered interactive marketing began. Blackshaw was hired at P&G the following year, after he got that Harvard degree. He began to lead initiatives in online advertising, rumor management and consumer word-of-mouth behavior. He also co-chaired and organized a Future of Advertising Stakeholders Summit that drew consultants and marketers from all over the country. Denis Beausejour was head of marketing at P&G at that time and had just returned from 10 years in Asia to find the online activity all over the U.S.

“Pete was instrumental in helping me to understand the internet and helping P&G get properly positioned with the arrival of the internet,” he says. In 1998, P&G was named Interactive Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age magazine. Blackshaw still has in his office an enlarged board of the article, signed by his colleagues.

Leading the Tech Scene

Blackshaw got the idea for this first entrepreneurial venture when he and his wife, New Jersey native Erika Brown, had a bad airline experience on a trip abroad. The two were musing about ways they could share what happened with others. In 1999, Pete left P&G to found PlanetFeedback.com. More than a million people have used the web site to submit comments and write letters to companies about customer service.

“Throughout the history of commerce, consumers have been at a disadvantage,” reads the web site’s mission statement. “They’ve had less information than sellers. And less access to one another. They’ve had fewer ways to offer feedback. And fewer choices. The internet changes that.” Blackshaw opened the new company on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. He began to cooperate with his business neighbors in a movement to locate high-tech startups in the historic district.

In 2001, when the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber started the technology initiative CincyTechUSA to assist start-up technology businesses, Blackshaw enthusiastically jumped on board. He also collaborated with the chamber to hold a contest for the best Cincinnati bloggers, which attracted 160 entries. “Those people affect the reputation of Cincinnati,” making their writing more important than many realize, he explains. “That released an incredible amount of passion for people who are blogging in this community,” Buse notes. “Pete has an energy field around him that infuses people wherever he goes. And it’s all positive energy.”

Buse is grateful that Blackshaw has made his home here. “He’s a living, breathing example of what CincyTechUSA is trying to do. We could not dream of a better ambassador of our tech scene than Pete Blackshaw.”

In 2002, PlanetFeedback.com merged with Intelliseek, a software company specializing in internet monitoring using advanced technology. In 2006, Intelliseek was acquired by BuzzMetrics, which had been aquired by Nielsen’s parent company, VNU, along with the Israeli technology firm Trendum. With the name changed to Nielsen BuzzMetrics, the company moved to a riverfront office in Covington. The next year, Nielsen took 100 percent ownership in BuzzMetrics, merging the company with NetRatings to create Nielsen Online.

The Reign of the Consumer

Blackshaw describes himself as a somewhat tortured soul. People like to ask him which he is: an advertiser or a consumer. The truth? He's both. Information from hundreds of web sites appears on Blackshaw’s office computer screen in webs, charts and colored dots, showing positive or negative opinions and references about specific products, and their changes over time. “The whole point is to rank the buzz as much as possible, and we can do it a million ways,” Blackshaw comments, describing Nielsen BuzzMetrics technology. “A feature of success is how much your organization influences the conversation.”

That is the central message of his book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a business in today’s consumer-driven world, which will be released in July and is available for pre-orders on Amazon.com and RandomHouse.com. “Consumers are losing faith that brands are credible, and brands are not working hard enough to understand and nurture credibility in this environment,” Blackshaw writes in an article for Customer Relationship Management.

Consumer-focused advertising is a resource that must be protected, he says, and “intrusive advertising” such as spam, cold calls and pop-up ads damage the relationship. “If you take it too far, you’re doing the industry a disservice.” Enlightened businesses will take advantage of the new dynamics of internet communication, such as social networking and emerging language segments, to nurture a culture that values trust and open communication between the business and consumer.

An Idea Machine

Blackshaw’s passion for interactive media doesn’t stop when he leaves work.

“Pete has 100 ideas a day and I just go like this,” laughs his wife, a brand manager for P&G, rotating her thumb up and down, gladiator-style. She sits at their kitchen counter while her husband, at the desktop computer in the corner, talks excitedly about the many web sites he has designed, plans to design or has helped with.

To name a few, Votercam.com documents the need for speed bumps in their neighborhood. HybridBuzz.com details Blackshaw’s purchase of a hybrid car. Then there's his personal marketing blog, ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and the biweekly columns targeted to CMOs that he writes for the ClickZ network. He's also involved with the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, or WOMMA, a quickly growing industry group that he co-founded in 2004.

But all that work dims in comparison to Blackshaw’s work as a father. When his twins were born two years ago, he approached parenthood with the same zeal as he would a new start-up, throwing in all his time and energy. One of the byproducts of his parenting efforts was the web site DosBebes.com, which features personal photos, videos and a blog that family members as well as other new parents — especially parents of twins — will enjoy. He also runs ProudPadre.com and hosts multiple internet groups for new dads.

“I think theres a big niche in the dad zone. There’s a segment of progressive dads that is largely untapped,” he remarks.

Blackshaw also set up a web site as part of his participation in Leadership Cincinnati that he calls the “YouTube of leadership for Cincinnati”: LeadershipYou.com.

In the midst of all his current activities, Blackshaw still has a habit of purchasing domain names for future projects in case he needs them. But instead of cluttering his mind, he insists that these blogs and web sites help him organize his thoughts and get initial responses to ideas.

All the enjoyment that has come from such personal blogs “makes the marketing side of the equation all the more obvious and intuitive,” he wrote on ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com. Blogs can offer immediate feedback — something most people don’t get at work, he explains.

“It’s not that people have nothing to do. It’s that people have an inherent need to be heard,” Blackshaw says of blogging. And with his help, the voice of the consumer is being heard loud and clear.