Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The e-Consultancy Online PR Industry Benchmarking Report is creating a few ripples. It seems to me that PR experts are running round in small circles trying to agree: what is digital or online PR?; b: should it be run by specialists, or integrated across the agency?; and who owns it – PR, advertising or, god forbid, SEO? .

Wendy McAuliffe of Liberate Media says that the core element of PR is creating two-way conversations with a target audience. Online forums, social media, blogs (etc etc) – are ideal channels to do this. So I guess online PR is creating two-way conversations with a target audience. Online.

Mat Morrison said recently that his role at Porter Novelli is to get everyone in the agency to ‘be a little bit more digital’ in the way they approach all their PR campaigns. This has got to be the right approach in my view. If you’re trying to get someone to buy something, get to them wherever they are. Whether that’s listening to the radio, on Facebook, on Twitter, in front of the TV, reading the paper, looking at a billboard. All of which might be done online or offline.

Which brings us to who owns it. Of course, PR should own PR. As Wadds says, there are a number of specialist start-ups out there, and they are vital for innovation But whatever they call themselves, they’re still doing PR. Unlike the SEO companies claiming to do PR – I’ve yet to see an SEO company attempt to lead a serious online media strategy. Although it might be good sport.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Cobblers’ children? PR and blogs

Sally Whittle has some interesting observations on how well (or not) PR companies do at keeping their own blogs updated and interesting.

It raises some good questions: do PR agencies need to be active in all areas of social media to qualify as experts in the area? Do we have to maintain blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook groups and flickr profiles? Is blogging evidence enough in itself that we ‘get’ this space?

Without doubt, if we do this stuff ourselves, it helps us give our clients advice on how they should do it – but I suspect that in an attempt to be seen as cutting edge, PR teams are trying to take on more than they can manage effectively. But what we do, we need to do well.

Participating in social media is not just about being seen, but being heard – and building relationships. Potential clients will Google you. They’ll skim through your Twitter posts; check out your Facebook page, your LinkedIn profile, blog and website to get the truth behind the pitch, just as any modern recruiter would do for a candidate. We should be incorporating social media into our overall marketing plans and insuring that we:

1) Only participate in social media that is truly relevant (how many micro-blogging services do we need?)
2) Actively participate by updating our own blogs and profiles whilst contributing to others
3) “Trimming the fat” – regularly assessing what we have signed up to and its assessing its true value
4) Make sure that whatever you take on, you do well.

We’re all guilty of not doing all this – even the biggest agencies. Certainly my new year’s resolution is to spend more time focusing on social media that really works well for me, and for Carrot.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

America decides

So the election with what seems like the longest preamble in history is finally upon us. Today is the day that Americans get to vote on the next leader of the free world.

This election campaign is historic. For the obvious reasons - of course - of race, gender, a vice-presidential canditate under investigation until the 11th hour, record amounts of money raised despite (or because of?) the economic crisis. But also for the way that social media has been used by both campaigns.

Voters and candidates alike are twittering, blogging and being your friend on Facebook. They are posting You Tube videos and texting rally cries to get out and vote. Even the traditional podium debates have achieved their widest audiences on record - watched not just on TV, but online, the primary battlefield of this election.

Does this teach us anything about our own campaigns? Okay, our clients may not be running for president. But we are devising communiations campaigns to precipitate action. To engage in debate. We should be taking a lead from the US election campaigns in how to use social media to create advocates of action.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Nokia - PR accident or comment spam?

Nokia appears to have been caught out comment spamming – possibly the work of an over-eager PR person trying to build links and Nokia’s word of mouth PR programme (though this is not certain at the time of writing).

It’s a timely reminder that as part of every agency’s basic account handler training, they should include how to use social media programmes responsibly (and legally). It is increasingly difficult for companies to keep a handle on everything that is being emailed / posted on public forums by eager account handlers, so educating them at the outset of the campaign before you get caught out.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Will sueing make Absolut cool again?

Absolut Vodka is suing Absolute Radio for infringement of its trademark. What’s going on? Last I knew, absolute was an everyday descriptive word (to use trademark language). As you can’t trademark everyday descriptive words in the UK, I’m not sure how it will infringe on Absolut’s trademark.

Although I can understand Absolut trying to claw back its ‘we used to be achingly cool when we were only sold in style bars’ image (and therefore not wanting to be associated with an endless stream of Coldplay and Keane), I’m guessing people can tell the difference between a radio station and a vodka brand.

Oh, and the process of suing makes you look more corporate powerhouse than style brand.

Media shame

Showing an unusually optimistic side to my character, I had hoped that the days of ‘are we being run by a gay mafia’ (The Sun) reporting were over. But the return of Peter Mandelson to politics has shown an unpleasant side to media reporting that seems to be setting us back 10 years. Extra-marital affairs, prostitutes and nazi-themed orgies aside, few straight public figures are subjected to the level of snide comments that Lord M finds himself having to put up with.

While he has had his share of controversy, none of it as far as I know has had any relevance to his sexuality, about which he has always chosen to remain private. Love him or hate him, there is no excuse for the kind of reporting that sees him referred to as ‘Dandy Lord Mandy’, ‘sashaying’ into the House of Lords (and worse), Brown’s ‘new darling’; or that takes snipes at his long-term partner.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

I had a great call last week. It went along the following lines: "Would you like to do PR for my website? We don't have a revenue stream, or any possibility of a revenue stream, but we want to build up a community of users. Oh, and we can't pay you, but we could offer you a small amount of equity."

I declined.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Future for PR?

There’s been a huge amount of debate about whether or not there is a future for PR in the conversation-based, web 2.0, web 3.0, whatever you want to call it, world. There's a great summary of this debate at Robert Scoble's very thought provoking blog. Which made me think, how could web 2.0 suddenly stop the need for companies to promote themselves, or manage their reputations? Doesn’t it make it even more important now that there is even less corporate control over a message?

And then I realised – ‘PR’ is being substituted in this instance for ‘bad PR’. In other words, the kind of PR that makes no differentiation between online and offline, newspapers and social media sites, bloggers and journalists, a real story and a press release. And so on.

PR is changing, fundamentally. Agencies have a real uphill struggle to pull our clients on board with the new approach to PR – one that doesn’t rely on AVEs to prove return on investment, but actually considers the impact that a good PR strategy could have on end users. This approach involves two-way communication, not one-way ‘push’ communication, as many agencies have been used to in recent years. Companies don’t ‘launch’ any more, they are discovered. A new product won’t achieve national press coverage, until enough people use it to warrant the attention. I’m old enough to remember the days when you could send out a press release on a new company and expect at least one bit of national business coverage, if you positioned it right. These days we have to work much harder, and be much more humble in our approach.

I’m not pretending to know all the answers, not that our agency gets it right all the time. It’s a new world out there, and we’re all finding our way. But if we get it right, we could just strike gold – give good advice to our clients, and be a helpful resource to bloggers, journalists, and industry influencers.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Angry brides and Facebook: media heaven

At 4 o'clock this afternoon, ‘angry brides’ in their wedding dresses will march on HSBC in Canary Wharf, to protest HSBC’s apparent role in the demise of, the wedding list company that went into administration earlier this year, leaving a long list of undelivered wedding presents in its wake.

The protest has been arranged through Facebook, under the event heading: “Bridal March to HSBC Canary Wharf”. Great press fodder, and according to the organisers: “There is a flood of media request for interviews.” The story is all over the national media.

And understandably so. What could be more emotive than the site of thousands of unhappy brides in full wedding gear, who have been let down on the happiest day of their lives?

But look closer, and as I write this, two hours before the protest is due to start, there are only 31 brides confirmed to attend the march. No doubt the actual number will be much higher, thanks to the media furore surrounding the campaign run on Facebook.

Thirty-one people? Making the national media agenda? It really is a testament to the power of social media as an issue and campaigning tool that this has any media interest at all. But good on them; I hope they all get their gifts and or money back.

It makes for a very interesting PR dilemma. HSBC’s role was financial, not operational, and as such has no real role in the company’s collapse, a fact that the bank has issued in a statement. But clearly the pressure is now on for it to finance the return of goods promised. Were it not for the lobbyists, there is a reasonable chance that its involvement wouldn’t have been given a second thought. It will be interesting to see how the bank handles it from here.

Monday, 28 July 2008


A quick apology to anyone who got a spam post appearing from my old blogspot address (and thanks Mat for pointing it out). Feeds are now reset and the old page blocked from feedburner, so hopefully it won't happen again.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Social media and reputation

Attended a really interesting session yesterday on social media and privacy issues, based around Ofcom’s new research into social networking (thanks to the PRCA for organising, and to Mat at Porter Novelli for hosting).

The Ofcom research confirms as fact what most people would instinctively know: young kids (many under the 13 age limit) compete for friends, teens and young adults dominate, none of us take privacy issues seriously enough, most people have profiles on more than one site, and so on. But as well as giving numbers, the research gives a really useful and interesting insight into the types of users of networks, and qualitative research into people’s attitudes towards communicating with each other over a social network.

This led to a broader discussion around social media and reputation management. Do most employees under 30 understand the implications of putting up dodgy photos of themselves on their Facebook page? Or that discussions (even between friends) on forums about their company can impact that company’s reputation? This is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for corporate reputation management and one that companies can’t ignore. Most companies will have contractual clauses saying that employees shouldn't bring the organisation into disrepute. But how many will have specific guidelines on social media and reputation? The risk of (probably inadvertent) damage by an employee on a social network, or forum is significant. And guarding against reputation damage is PR's remit. We should all start advising our clients on this, and fast.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Measuring social media PR

At a recent conference on social media, organised by ‘Don’t Panic’, the question that came up again and again was around evaluation. Edelman’s Marshall Manson, a very inspiring speaker at the event, was honest enough to say that there is no silver bullet on how to change our ancient evaluation methods to fit the brave new online world. Clearly AVEs have no place here (I for one will be glad to see the back of them - I'm amazed at how many clients demand them still), nor placement numbers.

I think we need to change how we see evaluation. Effective use of social media is all about creating dialogue with third-party influencers (ring any bells from the old world of pure media relations?), who then have an impact on the commercial success of a business. How you define that success is the key to measurement.

If you know that one particular blogger has a real influence on, for example, driving sales leads to a b2b site, then PR should be measured against how messages have been a. communicated to that blogger, and b. communicated by that blogger. The rest can be measured by an analytics tool to assess the business impact of the blog.

Going further back up the chain and our first job as PR practitioners is to identify who those social network groups, bloggers, forums etc are that have the greatest impact on business success. There are specific tools – Attentio is one – that use technology to do this, measuring bloggers for instance by prolificacy, message and impact (links, readers etc).

So, in summary, we need to:

1. agree on what it is we’re measuring. I would like to see this include a combination of:
a. output: conversations with influencers
b. out-take: messages conveyed to and communicated onwards by those groups (this is word of mouth in its purest sense)
c. outcome: lead generation targets – to fit in with overall marketing targets

2. identify who the influencers are. These might include a mix of third-party influencers such as journalists, social network 'activists', bloggers, forums and advocates, analysts etc)

3. put out money where our mouth is, and measure against the real impact PR has against the objectives outlined above.

So it is possible to measure the impact of PR in this new world. In fact, it's easier than it was before. If we get it right, PR will become on of the most important parts of the sales and marketing mix. Get it wrong, and we’ll watch social media being taken off us by our colleagues in online marketing and even SEO agencies.

Friday, 2 May 2008

The potential power of PR

A very interesting day last week at the Omniture Summit, where much of the focus was on measuring the impact of social and rich media. There is much talk in the PR world about the impact of all things online – how to target social networks, whether we should pitch using Twitter, the value of the social media release, use of vidcasts etc – but the really interesting thing to me is that finally, PR online has become measurable in a meaningful way.

The digital world is utterly transparent – you can track way beyond site hits these days. Imagine seeing not only which search term (key message), campaign or article drives a visitor to your site, but also what that visitor did once they arrived; where they engaged and where they didn’t; what they bought and what they ignored. By creating a dialogue with that visitor, you can track exactly what messages and themes resonate with target audience, and which networks / blogs / tweets have had the most impact. It’s incredibly powerful. Once we’re doing it properly across the industry, I’ll challenge any sales team to call PR ‘just an overhead’.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

At an event hosted by start up company, Pikum (run by entrepreneur, Sean Glass), I met Jure Cuhalev from the very cool new 'semantic' blogging tool, Zemanta. It recommends links on your blog, as you type - I'm fascinated by how it works, so will try it out for a while to see what links it recommends.

Online ad spend

So, Internet ad spend will outstrip TV by 2009, says the IAB in its report out this week. Not surprising, given the increase in time spent online over TV, and also the transparency of online as an advertising medium.

But this doesn’t herald a decline in TV advertising, just a shift in what we mean by it. As more and more people watch TV via the Internet (either streamed or downloaded), it is inevitable that the ad spend moves with it. This is potentially a marketer’s dream: a captive audience of viewers who have actively chosen to watch (rather than having it on in the background – or while they’re on Facebook on a laptop while in front of the TV). And you can track what works and what doesn’t. What will be more interesting, is to see how the payment models change, and how ‘pure’ brand advertising will fare.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Can PR agencies produce good copy?

This excellent piece from Sally Whittle (Do PR execs really use social media?) on the social release, highlights a real worry for the PR industry: that most releases are “just not terribly well written”. How hard is it to hire someone who can write?

Or is there a greater obstacle to overcome? The best clients are those who recognise that a well-written story will work better than pages of jargon. But, admit it, there are some who insist on cramming every marketing message they can into what may have started life as a decent bit of copy. With predictable results: journalist cans release; client berates agency for not getting coverage. Worst case, the relationship between all three is damaged.

The trouble is, everyone thinks they can write a good news story. Particularly people who can’t. Part of an agency’s job is to a) write good copy and b) to tell a client when to back off on the marketing messages.

There are two ways to get round this. 1. An in-house copywriter is probably an agency’s best investment – someone who has just enough detachment from the day-to-day account handling for a client to listen to their advice. 2. Don’t expect coverage from so-called news releases that are written like corporate brochures. Mostly they’re written for legal reasons and the website, and I can’t see that there’s much advantage to a journalist in receiving a standard “company XX works with company YY” release at the same time as the rest of the world, and if they do, then an RSS feed is probably the best way of providing it.

Instead, how about short, pithy news ‘bites’ - and maybe a link to a release if you have to? Focus instead on high-quality feature content and quotes (no “I’m delighted to announce…”, obviously), written specifically and exclusively for one medium at a time.

It may be too much for some clients. But it will help the reputation of PR teams with media; which will have a positive impact on coverage, which will build the reputation of PR with clients. Which just might pay your copywriter’s salary.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Digital fences

I find it vaguely depressing that so many PR agencies have set up (and continue to make good revenue from) separate digital divisions. While obviously its good news that PR agencies are making money off digital arms, is it really the best approach for their clients?

I strongly believe that every person in every agency should understand ‘digital’ – social networks, blogs, how to bookmark, feeds, vid/vodcasts etc etc – but surely you can’t create boundaries between them and other media. These days, we can access our newspaper, TV, radio and online content through a single device – our PC. TV and radio can be streamed over Internet, or downloadable to view later; online and offline media have their own blogs, twitters and social media pages. Everything is linked to everything else.

So how can you possibly create a unified approach to converged media if you separate your digital experts from other divisions?

Monday, 3 March 2008

Government + Laptops = (Horse + Bolted)

Apparently, almost 200 Government laptops have been stolen since 2001. But at least the Government moved swiftly and only waited until January 2008 before it insisted that all personal data held on mobile devices be encrypted. And there was us fretting…

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Banking makes you happy

I love our bank. They brighten up my day. I’ve just had a call from our personal relationship manager’s office (not the relationship manager himself, note), asking if I’d like to upgrade to Internet banking. When I reminded him that we already use Internet banking, he corrected me, saying we actually use online banking. I asked him what the difference is, and he said (and I quote): “The Internet is more sophisticated.” Genius.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Unbelievably bad PR.

Please tell me this is a joke:,,2245787,00.html

The kind of almost unimaginable tastelessness that gives PR a bad name.

Quite rightly flagged up by TWL:

Good PR starts at home

News that a Yahoo employee is charting the hourly progress of his redundancy from the Internet giant using Twitter made the BBC yesterday (

The job of PR just got a whole lot harder. We’ve long known that disgruntled employees and customers have a huge impact on how the company is perceived externally after a shake up. But the emergence of blogs, ‘tweets’ and status updates on social networks shifts the power balance significantly. ‘Control’ of any external message is impossible without the co-operation of everyone involved. Including those being laid off.

This might be a good thing for those of us who care about the reputation of PR. There’s never been the magic wand of PR that so many companies want, and ‘spin’ – a concept I find patronising to both the journalists and consumers who are supposedly taken in by it - is dying out. Now corporate employees have the same (or better) access to and influence on the media agenda as their corporate PR teams, really good PR will have to start at home.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Tesco. Every little bit of communication helps.

Tesco’s status as the biggest and most successful retailer in the UK is attributable in no small measure to its instantly recognisable brand. One of the vehicles it uses to promote its brand is the Tesco Magazine. If it wants to make the most of this publication and actually communicate with its customers, however, it might be an idea to first promote the magazine a little closer to home.

When I was in one its London stores recently, I asked one of the staff for a copy. I was amazed when none of the staff knew that Tesco even produces its own publication, let alone whether it might be available in store.

This is where corporate branding comes crashing down. If the staff of this retailing behemoth don't know anything about their own company’s magazine, all the hard work that the brand puts in to create sub-brands, or spin off products, is wasted in one fell swoop.

Even if it’s only a small percentage of its 250,000 staff[1] that know nothing of the publication, it has undoubtedly a missed trick: think of all those unaware staff who could be promoting the title – and the brand – to customers.

Which begs the question, ‘Why do so many companies fail to acknowledge that their customer-facing staff are, quite literally, the face of the company?’. These employees should be treated as the first priority – over any other corporate message vehicle, including media – when communicating brand messages or company news.

Obviously, Tesco isn't going to suffer because I couldn’t get my mitts on a copy of the magazine. But what if I had been the author of a very popular blog and this wasn’t my first negative experience of Tesco?

In the old days, people could share their negative experiences only with friends and family, which effectively limited the potential damage to a brand. But the situation is very different today. The proliferation of blogs and forums means that word-of-mouth PR and the endorsement of a friend or trusted peer has never been more important. Unfortunately, if a respected blogger has one bad encounter with a company, he or she has the means and influence to rubbish the brand far and wide.