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Friday, March 30, 2007

PR round up of the week: the good, the bad and the ugly

The Good: The new lifestyle magazine called Bob - any publication named after me has to be brilliant.

The Bad: iSoft, the troubled software company, has more disastrous news. Its commercial director has been sacked over alleged financial irregularities. Steve Graham is the centre of a FSA inquiry into whether the company misled the stock market about its finances.

iSoft had used a gagging order to prevent The Guardian reporting the financial irregularities at the company in 2004. When The Guardian was allowed to write openly it revealed the goings on with gusto. I have never seen a provincial IT company on the front of national.

Be confrontational with the media and it will bite you back as any search of iSoft on the Guardian Unlimited will reveal.

The Ugly: Iran. Yes Iran is playing power politics as the issue of their nuclear program comes under the spotlight. Perhaps they hoped to take the propaganda initiative, but it has back fired spectacularly. Using forced apologies, changing stories (about where the boat was found) simply confirms the fears and lack of judgement many associate with the Iranian rulers.

How Do? How Do - new North West media portal debuts

The new North West media portal How Do is now online and first impressions are good.

The site is easy to navigate, has a simple and uncluttered design and information is easy to access: no login (to view news and comment section) and no subscription.

The news page is already brimming with stories from a range of sources. It is a good sign and points to the portal becoming a well used resource.

The success of How Do will be based on the users: how much content they supply, how often they read it and how often they advertise on it.

Downside? Well, I think many media professionals want to see what is going on in the industry, but I think to be healthy it also needs to attract readers from outside the industry.

It's early days and the portents for this portal are upbeat.

Interested to hear others impressions: was it what you hoped for?; what affect will it have on the NW media industry?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Managing reputations online brought into focus by new survey

If there is any doubt that managing a reputation online is important, then those reservations will be quickly overcome if a new survey by Viadeo is anything to go by.

It found that a fifth of all companies surveyed searched the Internet in the selection process to learn more about the candidate. Of those that used the Internet to do some background checks a further quarter rejected the candidate based on "dubious personal information."

One company found that an applicant was on a police wanted list. Most rejections, though, were owing to indiscreet blogs talking about past employers and personal "revelations". One recruiter was turned off by a particular personal profile that cited that celebrity magazines were the only reading material of the candidate.

Surely many businesses are replicating such investigations as they assess potential suppliers and surely digital communications is becoming more essential to offline success.

It should all concentrate PR minds.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Footballers with communciation skills

I was having my usual pub chat, over the phone, with Stephen Wright, editor of Business 550.

Stephen was decrying the lack of intelligence and communication skills of our players.

Alan Hansen and Garth Crooks are good communicators but they are retired and in Stephen's eyes they do not count - they are the cream.

So are there any current footballers who can communicate without cliches or with originality, me and the boys would be over the moon to hear about them.

I can think of intelligent managers such Iain Dowie - a masters in engineering, Steve Coppell has an economics degree and Arsene Wenger is a polyglot. Martin Jol, Jose Murinho and Rafael Benitez strike me as intelligent.

But footballers? I am struggling, any ideas who has ability to communicate with clarity and can generate interesting opinions? Any names so I can prove Stephen wrong?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Word of mouth of marketing neatly packaged

Word of mouth is the most effective form of marketing and one that is beyond control of the marketing corporations, right? Wrong!

Well, Marketing Week has reported that 43% of Fortune 500 US companies are using agents to act as their word of mouth. Agents are not paid but receive product samples. Then, the theory goes, they will advocate the product to their friends and family. If you cannot trust a family member or friend, who can you trust?

The US craze will supposedly overwhelm us soon.

But what if the product is rubbish, do you still give positive reviews?

All agents must say they are part of the campaign to keep its integrity. Surely, it is not word of mouth then, just advertising by other channels. Word of mouth works because it is prompted by a service or product being exemplary or because you wish to help others, not only yourself.

Read with gaped mouth here for more information.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

McDonalds and the McPR campaign

McDonalds is on the PR offensive.

The UK arm is launching a PR campaign to get the Oxford English Dictionary to change its meaning of a Mc Job.

Maybe they should talk to the Institut Francais; has their opposition to English words entering the French language worked? - no.

The OED simply reflects the evolution of the language, it does not make decisions on the definition without referring to the common usage. It does not instruct people how to use a term.

McDonalds wants to re-brand McJob as a McProspect stating that lower levels of staff have real opportunities. It will only work if employees and the public genuinely believe that a counter job at McDonalds has real prospects and that seems unlikely.

This latest PR fad follows quickly on McDonalds announcing that they are employee led, with all employees as brand ambassadors and blogs being encouraged.

It just doesn't ring true. McDonalds offers a particular service and product that has made it highly successful - is that really going to change to be more socially acceptable or will a few PR campaigns and nice words suffice?

I have never used as many italics on my blog as in this article.

PR weekly round up: the good, the bad and the ugly

The good: cute Knut the polar bear, media star.

The cub was abandoned by its mother and some animal activists said it should be left to die.

He has pulled the situation around. Three and a half months later he has made it on to every paper of any note, has his own podcast, is sponsored by Germany's environment minister, has a documentary being commissioned about him and has been photographed by Annie Leibovitz to promote environmental issues.

And he has done it with little ego or effort.

The bad: NPower

It might not be enough to destroy a beauty spot, but using the law to muzzle any reasonable press activity about the episode was surely too much. Still those NPower security guards, many ex-forces, needed protection from the protesters, which included a retired scientist, local vicar and a Guardian photographer.

See entry from the 21st March for further information.

The ugly: Naomi Campbell, super tyrant.

The model has not been shy of causing controversy and being unable to control her temper.

The latest episode, involved attacking her maid with a mobile.

She served a community service order in New York, quite unremarkable until she left the place where she was doing her sentence in a full length sequin dress before being whisked off into a Rolls. So much for humility and learning something.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Slavery, abolition and PR

It is the 200th anniversary of the abolition, by Parliament, of the trafficking of slaves. The complete abolition took a little longer in the British Empire - 1834.

Naturally, there is a lot of media coverage about slavery and its impact. And one interesting article I came across on the BBC website focuses on the role of the Quakers in the abolitionist movement.

What is extraordinary, from a communications perspective, is how they pioneered PR and marketing techniques to achieve their aims.

The Quakers used a variety of methods to great effect that by all accounts were quite radical and original at the time:

  • Mass petitions
  • Lobbying of MPs
  • Posters and pamphlets
  • Case studies - one a diagram of the cramming of slaves on the ship The Brooke illustrated effectively the conditions slaves had to endure and, by all accounts, changed minds
  • Logos (as pictured above) and tag lines
  • The use of their meeting houses as a network to spread the word through talks and organise themselves

And they were passionate about their cause!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

PR tips from the professionals

I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Michael Taylor, editor of the NW Business Insider and Tony McDonough, deputy business editor of the Liverpool Daily Post. Lisa Miles of NW Business Insider also joined Michael to lend her support to the event and fielded a couple of questions.

It was an open session on some insider tips to supply better and more effective PR for journalists, with particular reference to their publications.

Tony kicked off with a clarification of a journalists' role. It is not about "promoting business," in this case Liverpool's, it is about reporting the triumphs and the disasters of business in his city.

A very good question, put forward by one of the audience, was "does size matter?"

Michael claimed it did not. In fact, the story was what mattered. If the story is strong, he would choose it against a big company and a poor story.

Michael stated he wanted new faces for his magazine. And he wanted stories that other business could relate to. So seeing the same old big companies went against his aims, unless they had something to say.

Mike Perls, managing director of MC2, asked what the pet hates of both journalists are.

Michael said it was PRs not understanding the magazine. He is particularly irked by London PRs trying to sell in stories that are not based in the region.

For Tony it was the lack of clarity of a story. He urged PRs to get the story expressed clearly in the headline and opening of the e-mail, not the attachment. He said he spends 5 seconds on each e-mail with a release and so he had to make a decision whether to read further or delete within that short time frame.

A couple of more tips of note were:

Tony - stressing the importance of images to sell stories; papers are never too overwhelmed by a lot of brilliant images for the next issue.

Michael - building relationships. He wanted companies to meet him "half way." In good and bad times there should be a dialogue, not when it just suits the company.

Michael said, "he always tries to be fair with companies," emphasising relationship building is essential.

I asked about digital media and its affect on their industry. Michael welcomed the democratisation of the media resulting from digital media journalists and bloggers. Both believed that newspapers will survive because people prefer brands and they trust their paper based media. Tony pointed out that the brand experience is about opening the paper on the train, that is part of the enjoyment.

Many thanks to MC2 for organising the event, which was conducted with a high level of professionalism from their offices - the site of the Boardwalk - and to the speakers for giving up their time.

Manchester media converging strategy - a peak behind the scenes

It is true that PR and digital media are converging and the lines are already blurred.

We always talk about about it from an agency or client point of view; how does it work from a journalists / news providers point of view?

Well, gives an illustrative article.

It gives an overview of MEN Media in Manchester and their strategy of converging the many channels they have to deliver content. MEN Media has the Manchester Evening News, its online portal Manchesteronline, Channel M, 23 newspapers and a radio station.

I was aware of some of the links, but I do not think I appreciated how it works fully - this article gives a really helpful insight.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NPower - shows how easy it is to build up to a PR crisis

I was watching the Channel 4 News yesterday when a piece came on that shows that some big businesses really think that coersion and not dialogue is the best way to get results - a gross underestimation of PR.

I am not sure if I should be amazed after the McLibel trial, but the same mistakes are being repeated.

The story is as follows:

Around many pits there are man made gravel pits. Eyesores at first, some fill with water and gradually many animals and birds make them home. One such gravel pit is Radley Lakes in Oxfordshire; gravel pit is now a misleading term as it looks like a natural beauty spot and is enjoyed by the local community.

NPower has decided to dump 500,000 tonnes of waste fuel ash (PFA), which will fill in the lake and destroy the habitat. NPower claims that prior to it being a gravel pit it was meadows and they are simply restoring the natural balance. Very few locals agree with this view.

At this point you might expect a company that claims to enhance bio diversity, as Indy Media disbelievingly reported, would talk to locals, open a dialogue and if possible find a compromise. In fact the reverse has happened, NPower has decided to use draconian laws banning media coverage! They have claimed that their staff, busy destroying the lake, have been intimidated by local protesters, which include the vicar, a photographer and a retired scientist.

Channel 4 presented the witness statements on their report, all of whom are NPower security staff, which were used in court. NPower claimed harassment of staff but it did not seem to add up and was over stated.

Now it is an offence to photograph the site and the media has been effectively muzzled. Taking a photo of the destruction of the lake will be meet with lawyers giving out court injunctions and masked security men adding a little physical presence. They claim harassment of staff.

Yes, it might be a saving to dump here but they have not factored the PR negative publicity. The more they obstruct the media the more the campaign will flourish, it might become a viral PR campaign. One case study I like to recount made Ben and Jerry's and seriously damaged rival Haagen Daaz was a viral PR campaign coined "What's the dough boy afraid of?"

The cause has been featured by the Guardian amongst others - if NPower handled it well it would be a local issue and nothing more. It looks like the impasse will damage NPower and will probably be picked up by the nationals, if it hasn't already.

What made me smile is the role of online PR: I searched "Npower PR disaster" on Google and on the page NPower pay per click came up. They certainly have a super digital marketing agency.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New creative media portal for the North West

Nick Jaspan, the man behind Newsco and the NW Enquirer, is launching a portal for North West media professionals in April.

The new site called How-Do will cater to the 130,000 creative media and marketing professionals in the region, which generate £12 billion a year.

Besides the daily news articles, readers will be able to leave comments and the portal will act as a "gateway" to 200 industry blogs.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Blogs, money and influence

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."
Oscar Wilde

Radio Five Live broadcast an interesting feature on blogging. The essential questions were whether you could make money from it and how advertisers could exploit the medium, especially if the numbers visiting a blog are relatively small compared to broadcast media.

Two interviewees and bloggers answered the questions and I think got it right:

Craig McGinty makes his living through his blog: This French Life. He expounded the view that being established as a leader in a field can mean as much as making money. What price reputation as my previous entry on return on investment on PR talks about?

Mick Fealty a political blogger from Northern Ireland put over the good point that blogs can reach the audience many advertising campaigns cannot reach.

If a blog can interact with a small audience but an audience inaccessible to other marketing then it is a far more powerful proposition than spending big money with a "mud against the wall" campaign.

To listen to the feature please click here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A few thoughts on return on investment for PR

All PR professionals must grapple with the perennial problem that affects our industry: Return On Investment (ROI).

We are in the marketing fraternity but we are not as lucky as direct marketers or digital media professionals; in both cases exact figures on ROI can be made or at least to a greater degree. Moreover, not only can unique visitors, return visits and leads be made for online marketing, the agency can also include the added bonus of talking about adding value through reinforcing the brand. Direct marketers can also show the figures that make managing directors eyes water.

Can PR agencies do the same for offline PR?

Yes, we can show the amount of coverage in terms of the cost it would take if the space was achieved by advertising. We can, if the client has been tracking, ascertain the number of leads.

Yet, PR is notorious for being hard to fully assess. Two of PR's biggest attributes that far outstrip direct marketing and many other forms of marketing are profile (recognition) and brand value (perceived worth of a service). But how do you measure that? You know it is happening, one of my clients has sent me an e-mail today to tell me he had congratulatory calls from associates that had seen his latest account win in a business magazine. Yet, I cannot put a figure on it.

It terms of cost against results PR has a lot to offer although we cannot accurately determine how much. It is a powerful marketing channel and can make and break companies: Ben and Jerry's was made through great PR alone and Ratners broken through poor communications.

So where do we go from here on this question?

Well, I think figures are only a part of any business story. We are a figures obsessed society: health managers, crime and education being broken down to figures as the key basis for determining success. The statistics might be saying improvement but who thinks any of these areas is on the up despite what the figures purportedly state?

I think we have to see PR as a way that can have returns in a number of ways, such as improved profile, a way to reinforce key messages and perceived value of a service as well as the hard facts about leads and sales.

I was talking to journalist and master blogger Craig McGinty about this very point. He said look at it from the perspective of how much you save for the client. How much time and cost would be needed to gain the coverage and the benefits through other channels? It is a good point.

As PR increasingly uses online methods the issues will continue rather than diminish. Blogs offer the returns of many offline techniques. They can be equally hard to assess, as discussed on this blog on the 29th January. What price reputation, community and exchange of ideas?

The question and possible answers continue to be a source of discussion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Where do all the PR young go?

I was talking to Nathan Smith of Manchester based Smith and Smith PR. He observed that you see few PR agency staff over 30. The exception is, in the main, director level staff but this does not explain the discrepancy.

So where do they all go? Is there a Logan's Run type scenario going on that means people over age 30 are terminated as PR professionals, a flashing palm being an obvious clue?

The serious reasons could be staff taking time out to have families, change of careers and, most probably, moving to in-house teams - a move that is less stressful and often pays more.

For an industry that is so popular - the CIPR states that PR is in the top three career choices for graduates - it is not hard to replace staff in terms of numbers.

It is a shame if vital experience is lost for clients and the standing of the profession because a ready supply of replacements is at hand. Indeed it could be detrimental to the standard of service offered.

If Nathan's throwaway observation is evidence of an underlying problem it really needs to be addressed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

1st anniversary of the passing of Jimmy Johnstone

Jimmy Johnstone passed away on the 13th March 2006.

He was a football genius , who was part of the Celtic side that beat Inter Milan to become the first British club to win the European Cup.

What is amazing is that all of Celtics players were born in Glasgow or its environs. Essentially, a Glasgow boys eleven won the European Cup.

What has this to do with PR? Very little. I just wanted to pay tribute to a footballer the equal of George Best and a man who was humble, modest and with a great sense of humour. He will also be remembered for the way he fought Motor Neurone disease, with fortitude and with a desire to raise funds for research although he knew it would be too late to help him.

The Jimmy Johnstone fund can be found by clicking here.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Round up of the PR week: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The Good: Levi Roots

Levi took his 15 minutes of fame on Dragon's Den and made it work for him to such effect that he has won a contract with Sainsbury's. The MOBO nominated Reggae singer made his entry on the programme singing Proper Tings "The Reggae Reggae Song."

The perplexed entrepreneurs were soon won over and seeing the PR and marketing possibilities of Levi and his Reggae Reggae jerk barbecue sauce, they took a 40% share for £50,000.

Levi's sauce is now stocked in 600 of their stores. And if you want the song, you can now download it.

The Bad: Newt Gingrich

The right-wing Rebublican behind the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for alleged perjury has now confessed he was having an affair at the time with an intern.

Is he ashamed? Sure.

Is he sincere? Of course his pre-emptive heart felt contrition comes before a possible bid for The White House.

The Ugly: Liz Hurley

The wedding's celebrations in Bombay and Jodhpur have been a PR disaster. If the first PR debacle of trying to shift local people off their beach in Bombay was not enough, there was apparently a ban on mobiles in the palace in case any unwanted magazines unofficially snapped the great event. But the ban extended to the owner's, the Maharaja of Jodhpur, private wing. Can no one be trusted? And then the security guards decided to attack the press.

Did her PR people learn nothing from the Catherine Zeta Jones episode?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Press releases as marketing tools

I was discussing with Simon Wharton that he wanted a release for his satirical video "Number One on the Google." I had my doubts. However, he explained that he wanted to use it as a tool to build and generate links and interest. Well strangely enough I came across a really interesting article from Lee Odden about making your online press releases work for you as a marketing channel.

Lee explains: "Press releases were originally designed as a communication tool between company PR staff or public relations firms and the media. But now that online news sites such as Yahoo News and Google News contain such an abundance of press release content and RSS makes it easy to syndicate news, press releases can be effectively used as a direct to consumer communication tool."

Lee offers 10 tips that can help utilise the online press release - a bit of an eye opener and something to read and re-read until it is second nature.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The 50 most important people on the web

Thanks to Jim Symcox of Acorn Service who has had a good spot with PC World's 50 most important people connected with the Internet (as reported on Yahoo).

The usual suspects are there: Steve Jobs, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Consortium and Jerry Yang, David Filo and Terry Semel of Yahoo. Bill Gates is not.

Pleasing to see Craig Newmark founder of Craigslist and Jimmy Wales founder of Wikipedia in there although no big surpise.

There is the odd, no corporate and surprising entry: Tila Tequila, a MySpace celebrity who has had her profile viewed more than 1.5 million times. She has enjoyed some celebrity away from the online world generated by her My Space activities. A career originating from being a MySpace celebrity!

A really brilliant entry is Mohammed and Omar Fadhil who blog from Baghdad at Iraq the model. This gives a real on the ground insight into the political situation in Iraq. Very well written for a non English native speaker, it is also well read if the large number of comments is anything to go by. Highly influential!

The last two entries show the power of social media. Influence is now being shared rather than being owned by a few media moguls. There is an alternative although traditional media and social media will exist side by side. After all did the catalogue displace the high street as predicted in the 20s? Did the PC displace paper? No.

It has shifted the balance of power though.

Long live the social media revolution!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

PushON launch video to explore viral marketing potential

PushON the online search marketing specialist agency is using video as a tool for viral marketing campaigns.

The agency has termed the campaign an "experiment" as it learns the value and best practice for utilising video to drive traffic to their site. They are hoping the lessons learned will help them to give their clients a more effective service.

The video has already generated leads and is starting to be picked up outside PushON's circle of associates.

To follow the campaign go to the PushON blog.

To see the video click here.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Chartered Institute of Public Relations issues social media best practice guidelines

The CIPR has issued its first guidelines for members engaged in social media.

It seems a good introduction and does not pretend to have all the answers.

On my initial readings I have two areas of concern.

Firstly, it is, as you would expect, written for PR professionals. It does not seem to get over the character and special nature of social media. The idea of community, sharing and interaction does not feature as prominently as it should. There is no discussion of how it is changing PR, media and business. However, it would be fair to say its focus is probably right; it is all about giving PRs some rules to work within so they do not tarnish the image of the profession and can work without severe consequences.

Secondly and of more concern, the CIPR Code of Conduct states for its competence principle in relation to social media that: "Members should, in this area as in others, be aware of the limitations of their professional competence, and should therefore be willing to accept or delegate only that work for which they are suitably skilled and experienced."

I have heard from sources, often throwaway comments, that some PRs claim to offer online PR and the sources are sure they do not to a high standard. Many marketing agencies offer the full service and use contractors to fill in gaps or are significantly weaker in some areas that a client is not aware of. It's nothing new, but it can cause a lot of problems for the profession.

The key principle, for buyers, is to make sure whatever marketing or PR service you choose you make sure your supplier can deliver what they say they can.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Artisan Marketing Communications one year old today

Thanks to everyone who has supported Artisan, big or small.