Artisan Marketing Communications offers clients PR and marketing communications advice, practical support and implementation.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A heroic reality TV series

The latest Big Brother fills me with with as much as anticipation and hope as a Manchester City bid to win European qualification.

So it was good to find out about an alternative that has more merit and is more believable: Who wants to be a superhero?

The Sci Fi channel has outclassed Channel 4 - is that an achievement these days?- with a group of hopefuls battling it out to become a superhero.

Each must demonstrate their superpowers rather than ability to be foul mouthed and dim. It looks fun and more believable and entertaining than Channel 4's effort.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Making money in China - better to stay in Manchester

I forgot to add business documentaries to my last post.

However, Channel 4 aired a quite extraordinary programme on doing business in China this week.

The piece followed Peter, an upper class old boy with an innovative air conditioning unit, Tony an honest and straight forward cushion producer and Vance Miller a low priced kitchen manufacturer and a dubious character often in trouble with Trading Standards.

Vance (pictured) was an inspired choice not least because he is on the run in China after evading police arrest for an alleged kidnapping in Manchester. He managed to get on the plane to China after the incident.

The documentary crew followed all three in their pursuit of riches. Easy money China ain't. The pitfalls are plentiful and Vance was often out conned, which must be particularly galling for a sharp businessman like himself.

In the course of the filming Vance suspected the granite mine owner was ripping him off so he bought the mine and became his boss for £30,000.

Cultural differences were exposed when Vance was offered donkey private parts as a delicacy to build a relationship. It was big and it was unpleasant. Vance wasn't sure if his Chinese supplier was making fun or being respectful.

The impression is that China has not even begun to meet its peak. It is a free for all. Pure capitalism. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a Chinese Dickens with the conditions that were shown. The steps leading down to the mine were scarier than finding Edwina Curry in your bed in the morning.

To do business you need to speak the dialect, have contacts, understand the etiquette, be proactive, be patient, be prepared to lose money, know who to trust, trust no one and much more.

As for Tony and Peter, Tony got his factory built and won substantial orders from the US. Peter went into partnership with a shady character who was a seasoned businessman. However, he had a gentleman's agreement. The product was selling after the customary drinking, eating and "wenching" and karaoke sales pitch. Whether he got paid is another matter.

Apparently there is a part 2 next week, an original bit of TV that you should switch on for.

For more views read The Guardian and Scotsman.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Television dinosaurs need to go

Take cooking, gardening, property and reality TV shows out of the programme listings and you are left with some huge gaps to fill in the schedules.

It seems that TV executives are playing it safe and dull. It is formulaic with no imagination.

With another mind numbing Big Brother on its way and desperate attempts to generate some interest in something that delivers little more simulation than a test card you would think that a little originality is being sought.

This last week has seen the Joe Strummer biopic "The future is unwritten" hit cinema screens, it chronicles punk band the Clash. I think there is a correlation between punk and the current situation TV has put itself in.

In 1975 rock has become predictable, boring and stale, fed on a diet on self congratulatory and self indulgent uninspiring trash. The age of the rock dinosaurs and I do not mean TRex. We are at that same point. We need a TV punk revolution. We need TV that is judged on originality, intelligence and is entertaining.

If TV advertising revenues are down and executives blame the Internet they should think again. Internet, Internet TV, blogs and many other media channels are not just succeeding because they are new or exciting, but because many of their editors and writers want to say something that engages with their audience.

If TV wants to fight for audience share it needs to not rely on a little sensationalism, proven but increasingly ineffective formulas and the inertia of viewers not to turn it off.

Friday, May 25, 2007

How not to follow up a press release

I was talking to a journalist today about following up and he is getting aggravated by a new ploy by some of the less able PR agencies.

If it wasn't bad enough getting a call saying, "Did you receive the e-mail?," he is getting calls after he has had his e-mails tagged. Essentially if he deletes an e-mail it means he is not interested. With the tagging the PR executive is able to note if an e-mail is opened read and deleted. The inevitable follow up asking for an explanation and trying to resell in again follows.

If a release is strong enough it will be used. Treating journalists as people incapable of making a decision is insulting and patronising. It will back fire.

The better solution would be to invest in thinking and writing stories that sell and not trying to pressurise a journalist into submission.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Virtuaffinity win a Big Chip

Virtuaffinity wins a Big Chip award.

Well done to Jamie Clouting for winning Best Rising Star.

Second Life version pictured.

Information received by text, not by Twitter.

Twitter ye not

The new, the must have, the....

No it's Twitter.

The latest mini blog / MSN messenger type tech application is gaining in popularity.

But what is the commercial, communications or fun value?

I am following the Big Chip awards from PushON's twitterings. I have to admit it is proving useful and if they win an award I will appreciate knowing as it happens or within a reasonable time frame.

It just seems though on many other occasions someone telling me that they are listening to a tune or having a drink is not incredibly interesting or welcome. We have mobiles.

Am I missing something? Still if fulfilling the challenge is to get Frankie Howerd on my blog it must have some value.

Big Chip awards to be presented in Second Life

The Big Chip awards has a habit of being quirky and odd when it comes to its entertainment.

The North West biggest digital media awards used a lady that grinded her metal clad groin with a metal rotating disk a few years ago. You had to be there, luckily I was not. Last year a bizarre take off of Kraftwerk played on some perculiar digital devices. And this year the awards are going to be presented in virtual world Second Life.

The awards ceremony will be streamed live from the evening’s proceedings at the New Century Hall in Manchester and will be available to Second Life’s estimated 6.5m users worldwide.

Tony Wilson, who is hosting the event will be digitally recreated online.

Those not able to go can follow the action as it happens by logging on to the PushON blog.

Good luck to Virtuaffinty PushON with their 2 nominations.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MEN Media to make 80 redundancies

MEN Media, which includes the Manchester Evening News, is to make 80 redundancies.

The reason given has been a poor advertising climate and new media investment.

The issue will be how can the group, which includes 24 newspapers, continue to operate at the same level of editorial quality and quantity if the staff numbers are reduced so drastically?

Any answers?

Top tips to unleash your writing power

Judi Goodwin is a journalist and teacher of creative writing based in the North West. She will be holding a feature writing class this summer, which will be worth attending.

Judi's key tips are:

1. Keep fit and well. High energy copy never came from tired, hung-over or weary journalists. Make sure you eat well, rest well and get plenty of exercise – and write early in the day before you become tired.

2. Complete all your research before you start writing. Confident writing comes from the knowledge that you have all the facts at your fingertips. Though of course, if you realise something vital is missing, it’s never too late to fill the gaps.

3. Let talking to people be the backbone of your research. An enthusiastic expert can fire your passion for a subject much more than researching via books or the web.

4. Enjoy your writing. Remember it can be fun. Before you begin, close your eyes and remind yourself you have all the skills you need – and you’re going to enjoy it. Then be prepared to play with the words.

5. Do your best to memorise the information before you start writing. The time you invest in transcribing notes or reading and re-reading your research will mean you can write faster and more fluently without having to stop to check your facts.

6. Don’t get it right, get it written. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s only the first draft.

7. Contributing to prestigious titles can sometimes trigger the terror that brings on writer’s block. If it strikes, pretend you are writing to your mum or best friend - or for the local rag. It makes it less scary.

8. Write quickly and spontaneously without monitoring yourself. Resist the temptation to continually keep checking as you go. Unless you suspect you are seriously off track, leave the revisions until the piece is complete. Editing on the hoof only inhibits the creative part of your brain.

9. Use sights, sounds and smells in your writing to bring it to life. While you’re doing the interview, or at the location, make notes in any spare moments of the things you can see and hear. What are they wearing, is their collar a little frayed, a button missing? What does their home/office look and smell like?

10. Write from the heart - edit from the head. In other words plug into your passion when you write. You can always tone it down later if you decide you’ve gone OTT.

11. Wait a while before you revise. A couple of hours delay will help you be more objective about your own work. If possible edit next day - you will instantly see what changes are needed. Then, with a little polishing, you should have lively, engaging, energetic copy. Good luck.

Found on the Connect Media website.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Internet 2.0 debate

Web 2.0 is the talk of the chattering business classes, well some of them, and this point was highlighted over the last few weeks by a number of talks about the subject.

Northern Guardian correspondent Helen Carter touched on the growing importance of the Internet to her role as a journalist as mentioned in the entry of 11th May.

I was lucky enough to see Mike Ryan of web agency Idaho give a seminar at Salford University on Thursday about Web 2.0.

The first point Mike made was that Web 2.0 was a bit of marketing speak to glitz things up, which obscured the issues.

He went on to explain the key correlations in what is generally classed as Web 2.0 site, of which Alexa claims there are 47,000:

Content creation
Cheap and fast
Collective intelligence
Cumulative learning
Core values

Nothing it seems that does not begin with a capital C. I can be a cynic but it does begin with a "c" so I am happy to use it, will it be Web 2.0?

Mike went on to outline the possible changes ahead of us.

Web 3.0 will give users a more effective search based on context and not on recognition of a word. He used three words to describe the next generation of search: connected, open, intelligent.

Mike also stated that change was gathering pace. We should not be surprised to see web servers in light bulbs, voice activated computers and an online agent to buy for you.

Mike also featured in a debate at the Circle Club, which brought some conflict of opinion. Tom Cheesewright covers some of the issues on his blog.

Is Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 so radically different? Your bank holiday has now been spoken for you to ponder.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

NUJ - fighting to save jobs petition

As Craig McGinty put in his recent appraisal of the NUJ boycott of Israel, the union really needs to concentrate on defending the rights of members, which is more than enough of a challenge.

This blog has reported a number of instances of redundancies of journalists this year, the last being the possible redundancies at the Manchester Evening News (22nd April) .

With all stories the theme has been the pressure from online media, declining sales spend and the need to re-employ budget to other media to ensure that the organisation can compete.

It is unfortunate but understandable.

The NUJ has illustrated that the reasons for redundancy are not so necessary in each case.

The Gannett/Newsquest group is cutting jobs despite record profits and assurances they provided to the Competition Commission hearing in 2003 on the transfer of The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times to not cut numbers.

  • Newsquest has a return on investment of over 35% in the last 3 years. This is more than double the average company performance in the UK (14.8%).
  • Profits from the three titles more than doubled last year to almost £20 million.
  • Parent company Gannett has a current operating revenue of $8033 million.

The reward for journalists: Chief Executive Tim Blott is demanding up to £3million savings from staff.

The NUJ is campaigning for its members and readers, if you feel this is of interest please sign the petition.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Apprentice: pitiful

Are those really the best business minds of the future? Sir Alan is having a joke.

Last night's The Apprentice, or should I say An Apprentice, was excruciatingly funny.

I watched last night's episode with curiosity as the teams were given the job of creating a brand for a trainer.

Of course two days is little time to achieve much, but even if they had a lot of time they would have achieved little.

To use an Alan Partridge saying, "Your act is very poor." However, Cheeky Monkey and Joe Beazley (I preferred to picture someone with more talent than the contestants) - who had that criticism levelled at them - would have been better bets.

Camel like (in the nicest possible way: doe eyes, long eye lashes) Ghazal was a clueless team leader. But it would be wrong to mark her out as others who were supposedly brand consultants were not much better.

The contestants had to simply come up with a big idea and create an advert. They got caught up in being creative. They did not think strategically:

Who were the trainers suited for; they looked like trainers for older people?
Where are the gaps in the market if any?
What appeals to the market?
How can they differentiate their product and image?

Instead it was all about street and was toe curling and unconvincing.

I would have aimed a campaign at the older market, say 50-60s. Market it as an all round trainer. One you can go shopping with, relax, take the children to the park. This would have fitted better with the design. The tag line a shoe for all seasons.

Not much of an idea? Well, the teams were so obvious and lacking an originality that anything is better. Indeed, the winning team won by default as the standard was so awful.

They did not consider any market outside teenagers. Showing that spark would have shown some intelligence.

Sir Alan is not without fault. He wanted an advert that sells kit not one that wins Montrose film awards. My marketing communications teacher said that he won many advertising awards but the product did not sell and that he had many adverts that sold but did not win the prizes. The secret? There isn't one. It is impossible to tell what will work until tested. Surely Sir Alan had experience of that.

And without a properly thought through campaign using other marketing channels it is a silly brief.

Have you heard the one about the three contestants who claim that they are global brand consultants and advertising geniuses? The are really comedians without a joke.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

UK first: masters in digital marketing communications

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) in conjunction with the E-consultancy is offering a masters course in digital marketing communications.

From a read of the syllabus it is a welcome and attractive proposition. Indeed, you might, as I am, be surprised that no other UK university has designed and marketed the course before. Maybe there are similar courses out there I don't know, but it is good to know that the course is available on our doorsteps and that has to be positive for the digital media industry in the North West.

I think anyone that understands and is able to utilise the skills and knowledge that are given is going to be in some demand, especially if they have the experience.

My only issue is cost. The certificate stage is £3450 plus VAT and the same for the diploma stage. The dissertation stage and the award of the masters will take more than £2000 out of a training budget or a personal bank account.

All education is an investment and I completed a marketing diploma at MMU, which cost considerably lower if I am not mistaken. My CIM (as distinct from my marketing diploma at MMU) cost a few hundred pounds.

Will a lot of the potential intake be priced out? Will they recoup a return within a short time I don't know? Is it essential or will it give you a head start that justifies the outlay?

Please let me know your views.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Prince William joins Facebook

With any new technology there are early adopters, later adopters, followers and royal adopters.

Reports are circulating that Prince William (not pictured) has joined Facebook, the social networking site.

Even though it is hard to confirm that this is the real deal, many of the prince's friends have joined up and so it lends credence that this is him.

William names that amongst his Old Etonian and socialite friends he can also count Basil Brush (pictured) in his exclusive circle. That is impressive, the guy's got class.

Sunday, May 13, 2007 is back!

No don't worry they are not looking for funds.

In its short lifespan spent £160 million of investor funds (although some reports say it was as low as £125m) for little return except a website that could not be used by potential users because it took too long to upload and a very expensive advertising campaign to a holding page because they were so behind schedule getting the site up. was and is emblematic of the disaster that was the dotcom boom... and bust.

Now it is back in business. It is has nothing to do with the two Swedish entrepreneurs that originally set-up the site. A travel company Web Reservations International has bought the name. Their reasoning?

"Even though we have no association with the previous, we like the name because it's short, snappy and easy to remember. We hope you like it too."

Surely you do not want the association even if its a name? There must be another catchy name you could use?

If there is someone out there that can explain the whys and the advantages of taking the name of a brand that is associated with disaster please let me know.

I wonder whether they should have used a more positive url: or or

And for anyone who wants to relive those glory days please have a look a CNET's top ten dotcom flops.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"It's more effective to send releases through the post than email."

That was one of the more intriguing and interesting insights at a recent CIPR / MMU "Meet the editors" event.

Helen Carter, northern correspondent of the Guardian, advised that PRs should send key releases in the post because they stand out against the volumes of releases that can be "lost" in her e-mail. Postal releases are less likely to be ignored or missed.

Not sure about whether this preference applies to many journalists although things can get lost in the deluge of correspondence.

Helen and James Wilson's (FT) key points are that they do read blogs (Helen more than James). They do use search engines to find stories but blogs can be too slow for some stories as a source.

There is "a shift in thinking" according to Helen. The newspapers have been slow to adapt to the Internet but that is changing as younger readers do not buy many newspapers. The Guardian's foreign and city stories go on the website first. Podcasting is becoming common as is video camera.

And as Craig McGinty, fellow blogger, says newspapers will be replaced by mobiles to receive news or some other technical device is echoed by Helen. I think this is still open to discussion. The paperless office was touted first in the 1970s and my office is a mess of paper today. I aim to resolve that shortly. Sitting on the fence on this.

Lastly and encouragingly, nationals do pick up local stories regularly and see this as a valuable resource.

Thanks to all those who organised the event.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The great communicator series: George Bush

In response to the Guardian's great speeches series to promote sales I thought I would take an alternative approach to promote my visitor numbers. My calendar of George Bushisms has a real peach for today:

"I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein."

Washington D.C. May 25, 2004

Winston Churchill has got nothing on that.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

CTI: using newspapers and blogs for PR

CTI (pictured left) has featured in the Manchester Evening News, including the business media section, and the South Manchester Reporter this week to establish that they are up and working only one day after the Dale Street fire.

As part of the PR I used my blog to get the message out. The blogs of friends to link into my blog helped achieve high search engine ranking.

The combined Manchester Evening News and South Manchester Reporter readership is about 400,000. The readership of my blog and I suspect (with respect) the blogs that covered the story would not combined amount to 1% of that figure for one day's traffic.

Some comments I come across on blogs, portals and other media ask is there any point to blogs when the comparative readership is so low in many instances.

I do not believe a blog is the PR or marketing answer, which some detractors mock it for not having achieved this status. However, not everyone reads newspapers. Moreover, the traffic that came to my blog, in many cases, was coming to view specific content relating to the fire.
In this case the readership of my blog was highly targeted; they wanted exact information and it was delivered.

Blogs are not the major media channel but in an increasingly fragmented media world they cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Britain's favourite brands

I recently placed an article in a marketing publication for Jim Symcox of Acorn Service, which essentially said, "brands deflect companies from what’s really important: a great service that customers want. Great branding cannot save a company and it cannot make a company."

It was an well argued interesting article that really went against the grain of the other views expressed but as a society and as marketers we are still obsessed with brands.

Marketing magazine has placed the best loved brands for 2007 as:
  1. Google
  2. Nokia
  3. Amazon
  4. Tesco
  5. eBay
  6. British Airways
  7. Coca Cola
  8. Persil
  9. Heinz
  10. O2

And the brands we hate:

  1. Pot Noodle
  2. McDonalds
  3. AOL
  4. Sunny Delight
  5. Novon
  6. The Sun
  7. Man Utd
  8. The Star
  9. 3
  10. Irn Bru
Of course there will be some argument on the order: Man Utd at only number 7 for the brands we detest. Surely the methodology must be at fault.

The best loved brands share one common denominator, according to Marketing's editor they all provide easy-to-use technology.


Sunday, May 06, 2007

Marketing organic search marketing

The identities of those mentioned will be kept intentionally vague to protect someone who should have more knowledge than they do.

I was recently talking to an online search marketing professional and he was relating an episode that shows that the level of knowledge of the online world, within business, is poor. You probably knew that. But it strikes you that there is something drastically wrong if it involves someone that is actively involved in digital media that has a deficit of knowledge.

The online marketing professional had to relate a case study to a fellow digital marketing professional that utilised organic search marketing techniques, such as reciprocal linking and the use of bookmarking sites.

After a thorough explanation, which by his account was described in plain English, the digital marketer was no better informed. The response was, "What about the pay per click?"

The concept of building traffic to a site, and better quality traffic, through another means, was beyond his comprehension. He could only think in narrow terms of reference. For someone that is involved in a field that changes all the time this is a poor sign.

When you have to not only sell yourself, the company and the level of service it makes the task much more challenging when the actual concept / service / product is completely new. And not only that, not even understood.

In such circumstances the professional in question would have to educate the market before the prospect even knew if it is of interest.

In such a scenario the PR and marketing resource will have to accommodate the role of educators as well as promoting the company. This weighs more heavily on resource.

In such instances the chances of a successful campaign to promote the service can be more risky. Not because the product or service is of insufficient value, quite the opposite, but because the PR and marketer have to create the market as well as convince the market that their client has the best offering. It is a big ask for one or two agencies and their marketing resources to undertake.

However, should it be successful the rewards can be worth it.

My future references will be less vague because if the guilty party was named it would be shocking.

Pitching for business with Tom Inspiral

I was trying to get a pitch with a Manchester based entrepreneur who runs a record label amongst many things on Wednesday.

I was invited to catch him for a quick chat at a music event he was organising to see if there was any potential to move forward.

He was rushing about and I was taken up to a VIP area at the Comedy Club until he got a spare moment. So I had to make do with talking with Dave Haslam and Tom Hingely (pictured left) of the Inspiral Carpets.

I have to say Tom is brilliant to talk to, very engaging and he has got rid of the fringe: progress.

He said he recognised me but couldn't place me; I had the same experience as I did not recognise him without his fringe straight away. It must be getting out and about so much.

In the end it transpires that PR or marketing help is not really needed, the record label are pretty much up on it themselves. In fact they are way ahead of many marketers. I learnt about a new marketing technique: bluejacking.

So did I regret using my time for something where there will be no work? Not at the moment. I have arranged to meet up with the entrepreneur to swap ideas. That could be very valuable by itself.

As for meeting Tom Inspiral I found out later that his song This is how it feels is being misused by Man United supporters to taunt City:

"This is how it feels to be lonely
This is how it feels to be small
This is how it feels when your world means nothing at all"

Unfortunately I did not bring him up on this gross violation.

CIDS offers further advice to businesses affected by Dale Street fire

CIDS is holding a free workshop around business issues relating to the Dale Street fire such as insurance, lease contracts, contract position with landlords on Friday 11th May, between 4:30pm and 6:30pm at The Circle Club, 13 Barton Arcade, Barton Square, Manchester, M3 2BB.

Pannone and Salford Law School will be on hand answer legal questions.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How Do portal on course to meet target

North West creative industries port How Do is on course to meet its monthly target of 5,000 -10,000 regular visitors by the end of the year.

The site, which was launched a month ago, registered 5,000 unique visitors for April with 80% returning to the portal.

Plans are on-going to develop the site further over the next few months.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

CTI and the Dale Street fire: PR update

CTI was up and running, providing IT services, as normal on Tuesday.

The contingency planning and information back up ensured that relatively little time nor data was lost.

The PR had to convey this to clients and the industry in general.

The following actions were taken:

Clients actually called CTI to find out the situation from early on Monday. They were quickly reassured by Nick and his team. If this had not happened then the clients would have been contacted to reassure them and accurately describe how the fire has affected the projects they had being fulfilled. Luckily not much.

I advised that they also contact leads and past clients, which had had a relationship as in the latter case you cannot tell if they will re-engage or if they will pass on recommendations about CTI to new prospects. If they think CTI has been badly affected then this could lose opportunities.

A release went out Tuesday morning to all the major North West print and broadcast media outlets.

The Manchester Evening News interviewed Nick as did the South Manchester Reporter. Coverage in the Reporter should be available today. BBC Radio Manchester also set-up an interview, but unfortunately it clashed with the hour CTI was given to go into the premises and recover their equipment. It is still a possible.

There was a fair amount of ringing around and I am waiting to see if this effort comes to fruition.

The North West business monthlies will be contacted shortly. There are a few other opportunities I am working on as well but it is too early to say the results.

I used my blog, with the help of fellow bloggers linking in, to help push CTI's presence on the search engines in relation to the fire. Any search with "dale street fire cti" will bring them up and so will more general searches. Anyone that goes directly to CTI's website, from a search or by going directly to the website will find a statement saying they are in full operation.

The important thing is that any journalist who uses the Internet to find interviewees might come across CTI's story because of the blogging activity.

There is also a wealth of opportunities to talk about disaster recovery and with the case study being CTI themselves there could be some brilliant opportunities to talk about the subject in the next few months.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Help for those businesses affected by the Dale Street fire

The Creative Industry Development Service (CIDS) has been very active in finding new homes for those businesses whose premises were affected by the recent fire on Dale Street.

Even though CIDS has been able to place a number of businesses, it is looking for companies with office space to contact them if they can lend their support. Many enterprises are sole traders or micro enterprises so any spare desks would be welcome.

CIDS is also housing a few sole traders from its premises as a stop gap until they can be housed.

If you are a business that has lost its offices owing to the fire, CIDS is also happy to help.

For any inquiries or offers of help please contact Phil Birchenall on 0161 827 9702 or by e-mail at