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twitter-birdAt the Australian launch of Windows7 today, Microsoft has invited Twitter followers to take part, with the event being streamed live through Ustream.tv . These followers have the chance to engage directly with senior Microsoft executives, and during the Q&A session, every fourth question will come directly from the Twitter feed.

However, a number of journalists are not keen. First they would prefer questions only come from journalists at the event itself. Second, they’re worried the Twitter questions will be filtered and that only the easy ones will be answered. Third, they’re concerned it will take up too much time and give real journalists less opportunity to table their questions. But with only 140 characters and no follow up, it’s not likely to be a time consuming exercise.

One alternative suggestion put forward by a journalist is to run a Q&A by the likes of Slashdot and Digg, where questions are crowd sourced, than a top ten are posed to the interviewee and would better represent what the audience wants to know.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how it goes and the reaction. Twitter is now common place on TV with live studio audience shows using it to get questions in real time from viewers.

How many other PRs, particularly from the tech sector, are incorporating Twitter feeds like this into big events? What has the feedback been? Keen to hear what people think.

There is a product here in Australia called Vegemite, which is popular eaten on toast. Like Marmite in the UK, you will either love it or hate it. It’s definitely an acquired taste. Apparently, there is nothing similar in the US.

 

iSnack 2.0

iSnack 2.0

Owned by Kraft, a new recipe of Vegemite was launched a few months back, but without a name. Instead, the name was entrusted to the Australian public as a competition. This week, the winning entry was unveiled and it has been called – iSnack 2.0Yep, can you believe it? How can you give food a name like that. What is going on?

As you would expect, the public is equally puzzled. As is the modern debate, the social media channels have been on fire with opinions on both sides. The mainstream media has also reported heavily, both here in Australia and overseasgiven the iconic status of the Vegemite brand and probably because it’s such an unusual name.

 

Personally, I have to agree with the negative camp. It is one of the most unusual product names in living memory.

What do you think?

Or, is it going to be remembered as a smart PR stunt to simply get people talking about the product? Would we be at all surprised if the product is re-named in a few weeks, due to the weight of negative consumer feedback? We will find out soon enough.

In the meantime, like it’s famous UK counterpart Marmite, you will either love it or hate it (the iSnack 2.0 name I mean).

Update: Kraft has just announced it has dropped the iSnack 2.0 name and will get the Australian public to vote again.

My colleague Sam North, former managing editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald in Australia, has responded strongly to Umair Haque’s Nichepaper Manifesto. He doesn’t blog but has given me permission to post his thoughts. A little long for a blog post, but thought I would share it all:

If the Nichepaper Manifesto is some sort of harbinger of the future then God help us all. Unfortunately its broad sweep of generalities, trite statements and ill-informed comments are typical of the newspapers-are-dead lobby. I defy anyone to get their head around such an amalgamation of nonsense. The day the article was sent to me today (Wednesday, August 5), as usual, I read the AFR (a specialist finance and business newspaper and website which seeks – and many say succeeds in doing – to develop a perspective, analytical skills, and storytelling capabilities that are inimitable by rivals . . Nichepaper, anyone?), The Australian, the SMH and the Daily Telegraph. All three strove to impart meaningful, lasting knowledge by extensively educating, enlightening and informing me about many issues, particularly the Ozcar debacle in Canberra and the terrorism arrests in Melbourne.

Far from radically reinventing what news is, both those issues had the previous day been the subject of astonishing news breaks by The Australian, with the paper exclusively revealing that Godwin Gretch had admitted to writing the fake email and – even more astoundingly – revealing that the massive police terror raids were being carried out even as our papers were being delivered.

The SMH and The Australian had sections on local news, world news, arts, sport and business (Nichepapers?) and separate liftout sections on Money (SMH), Higher Education, Wealth and the Australian Literature Review. Both papers have interactive websites with the last figures I saw showing smh.com.au with more than 4.3 million unique browsers each month and theaustralian.com.au with 1.4 million.

The Nichepaper Manifesto says Nichepapers ‘’are different because they have built a profound mastery of a tightly defined domain – finance, politics, even entertainment – and offer audiences deep, unwavering knowledge of it.’’

One would have thought that the SMH, The Australian and the AFR – along with their attendant specialist sections – offer all that, plus something more: eyeballs.

The latest circulation figures show that, far from the sky falling, the top three quality broadsheets in Australia – the SMH, The Age and The Australian – slightly increased circulation over the previous 12 months. And, in fact, the three papers have increased circulation over the past five years. And, while I can’t talk for The Australian, I do know the SMH and The Age remain profitable.

News (of the current definition, not the yet to be disclosed reinvented definition) still sells. The Daily Telegraph in London increased daily circulation by around 100,000 during the recent period when it was drip-feeding stories about the spending habits of British parliamentarians.

It is true that advertising has tanked in newspapers. But my theory is that everyone loves a new toy and the lure of the bright, shiny new media was difficult to resist. But in the light of a post-Christmas hangover sometimes those toys are looked at in a more critical light – they might be trendy, but are they better at doing the job?

Nielsen research released in April showed that more than 60 per cent of Twitter users have stopped using the service a month after joining; the two latest ANZ job advertisements surveys have shown an increase in newspaper job ads in June (0.9%) and a decrease (0.4%) in July, while online ads fell 4.8% in June and 3.6% in July.

What it all means, I’m not sure but I’ll finish with a blog in March from Tim Pethick, the young entrepreneur who successfully launched Nudie drinks, among other products. He told of his product Sultry Sally chips, a low fat brand available in Woolworths. Woolies, which had launched a rival product, told Pethick that he had to engage in mainstream advertising to boost the sales of his chips. Pethick wrote: ‘’to be forced into a position where I have to take a traditional, main media approach is anathema.’’ His fears were multiplied when a partner suggested advertising on 2GB.

‘’My heart sank. Strategically, I couldn’t think of anything worse. We are talking radio; worse, AM radio; worse still, talk-back radio; even worse, a radio station that everyone knows is only listened to by a few old punters – way, way off target and brand for us.’’ Needless to say the product walked off the shelves, with stores emptied of Sultry Sally chips. ‘’It is working like nothing I have seen before,’’ wrote Pethick. ‘’I love the fact that the old ways still count for something; I love the fact that I can still be surprised, be wrong and learn from it.’’

Actually I won’t finish on that, I’ll finish with the Nichepaper Manifesto which writes that ‘’Nichepapers are the future of news because their economies are superior.’’ ‘’What is different about them is that they are finding new paths to growth, and rediscovering the lost art of profitability by awesomeness’’. And what is the lost art of profitability by awesomeness?

I quote: ‘’When you can make awesome stuff, you don’t need to find “better” ways to sell it. The fundamental challenge of the 21st century isn’t selling the same old lame, toxic junk in new ways: its detoxifying and dezombifying it, by learning how to make insanely great stuff in the first place.’’

As you can see, Sam holds a firm view towards the newspaper lobby and its future, perhaps being an ex hack and all that.  But he makes his points very vividly and with passion, just as Umair did in his original post.  

Of course, plenty to debate here for everyone.


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There are many differing opinions on the value of citizen journalists, and often they can be negative. But no matter what your own personal opinion may be, I think we all have to agree there is a place for it. The recent Mumbai terrorist attacks, the Hudson plane crash or the events that have unfolded in Tehran are all good examples.  

In an interesting move, TechCrunch has just reported that You Tube launched a new channel called Reporters’ Center  over the weekend. The goal is to educate us on how to be better citizen journalists.  A number of journalists and media experts will share instructional videos with tips and advice for better reporting. Media training is a better way of describing it.

So far, 34 videos have been posted including video from CBS News’ Katie Couric and Washington Post’s Bob Woodward. That is a pretty good start.  

It also shows that real journalists DO embrace citizen journalists, which is great to see. I know from comments here in Australia, a lot of journalists have been very negative. Their reasons vary, but largely it’s either because they feel threatened, or they just like to bag the quality of it. On the latter, they often have a case, but really there is no real threat here. There is always a place for quality journalism and I think citizen journalists now provide a new source for stories, with several major events breaking first from video or a tweet.

I think this will be a great training resource, and if it means the quality of citizen journalism will improve, that has to be a good thing right?

I guess there will be some journalist’s that will still trash it, but if they do, at least they now have a chance to improve it. Like Katie and Bob, they can simply jump in front of a camera and share their tips with the rest of us. We shall see.

It must be research season. The latest report to hit the streets down under is the annual Grey’s Eye on Australia report, conducted by Sweeney Research. Whilst some of this makes for interesting reading, I think it also states the obvious. Not surprisingly, it focuses on consumer attitudes about the recession and how people are feeling. 

Reassuringly, despite the gloom, almost two-thirds of Aussies are “extremely” or “very” satisfied with life, despite rising unemployment and a greater focus on personal finances. Perhaps the Rudd Government’s decision in February to hand out wads of cash to a large proportion of the Australian population had something to do with that!

Grey director of planning, Simon Rich, said in the company’s press release:  “For most Australians, life is still OK. Interest rates are low, the cost of petrol is declining and unemployment has not yet reached crisis levels. So, we’re positive about today but concerned about what the future may hold and as a result we’re cutting back expenses and holding off on big ticket purchases.”

I don’t know what is happening in other parts of the world; do you all share Simon’s views?

In an effort to save cash, the purchase of luxury items is waning and consumers have returned to home brand goods. This report showed only 9% of consumers do not purchase house brands, and 41% are buying more than they did 12 months ago. Call me a snob, but home brands still lack quality and with three children to feed, there is in my opinion less waste in sticking with what you know, rather than downgrading to products you may not have tried before.

The changing role of women and how they have adapted to the financial downturn is also highlighted in the report, with Grey managing director Jane Emery saying that it shows women are still the backbone of the Australian household. The report says most major household decisions are undertaken solely by women, with 59% in charge of household expenses and 74% take charge of supermarket shopping – compared to 34% of men. Come on fellas, clearly we should be pulling our weight more!!

Other key findings (and my comments):

- 41% Australians feel they live in prosperous times – down from 70% in 2008 (no surprise);

- Unemployment and job security (29%) is seen as the number one issue facing Australians over the next five years (no surprise);

- 28% people know someone who has lost their job as the result of the global financial crisis (no surprise);

- 86% Australians are actively trying to reduce debt (no surprise and don’t we do this anyway recession or not?);

- Only 16% of women feel job opportunities are consistent for both sexes, compared to 49% of men (that is a concern);

- 39% consumers are prepared to pay more for eco-friendly products or services , which is down from 49% last year (so, does this mean we don’t care about the environment, or has the recession led many of us to abandon the priority of being green to save money?).

- 51% rate as the number one concern drought and water issues, which is a major issue in Australia.

- Most respondents (76%) think most companies are still not environmentally conscious and 83% agree companies should tell people what they are doing about the environment.

- Only 31% of consumers are ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ concerned about the effect of the environment on them personally or their household, compared to 37% in 2008 and 49% in 2007.

Finally, on Internet used (and my comments):

- Browsing the internet is Australians’ number one source of ‘unwinding’ (64%); – Contrary to belief, even 68% of Baby Boomers rate surfing the internet as their primary tactic for unwinding (are we that boring?);

- 74% of respondents subscribe to e-newsletters (boring…!);

- Only 45% of Australians have watched an advertisement online in the past two months (that did surprise me);

- or in an email someone sent to them (49%) – gotta be too much spam;

- 90% of respondents search for information on products or services online before buying (no surprise)

Overall, no real surprises, but some interesting differences. What do think? Are Australian consumers just an optimistic bunch, or is the recession hurting more in other markets? Clearly, the sun and surf may help keep us happy, but I suspect if Gray was to conduct this research again, today, many would not be so positive, with the bottom of the recession forecast to hit in October.

If you haven’t been following this Australian story, it’s a stark reminder on why you cannot deceive people through social media campaigns. And if you get caught telling fibs, please admit it.

Naked Communications is the digital agency behind the girl-in-the-jacket controversy for fashion brand Witchery.

Naked recorded a video of an actress who claimed to be trying to find the man of her dreams who had left his jacket in a cafe, and put it on YouTube. It quickly became the most talked about stunt, but for all the wrong reasons. It suffered a backlash from social media commentators who opposed the deception involved in the campaign. Then a second video was produced, and so it went on. The hole was getting bigger by the day. It would only be a matter of time before someone fell in that hole, and that person was Naked’s CEO in Australia, Mat Baxter, who quit last week.

There entire saga moved at such a fast pace and there were plenty of twists along the way – first denials, then admissions, then defence of the stunt and finally more finger pointing. Naked said it was all fun and harmless, but the bottom line is that people don’t enjoy being lied too.

The last straw was when The Australian’s Wish magazine published a full page advertisement from Naked for Witchery naming the journalists and media that had been fooled into writing about the stunt. Ouch! As you can imagine, this didn’t please those journalists.

Whilst the CEO has now moved on, can Witchery recover from this mess?  If you check the company’s web site, it’s still trying to turn this situation into a positive (if that is at all possible?), offering customers the opportunity to meet the ‘famous’ model from the YouTube video. Perhaps the named journalists will turn up looking for revenge!

Not quite best practice and further reinforcement that you need specialist advice to play in the social media space.

 

According to a new book released by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, journalists face “two years of carnage”. 

Titled “A report, Life in the Clickstream: The Future of Journalism”, the book also revealed it’s very possible that the biggest media companies in the US will come crashing down due to cost-cutting and reduced quality, while five in 11 newspapers will vanish in Britain. After all, more than 12,000 journalists around the world lost their jobs this year.

Media Alliance federal secretary Christopher Warren said that usually, journalism has traditionally “thrived on the emergence of disruptive technologies even as economic models have changed”.  The Australian newspaper spoke to Christopher and filed a story yesterday.

In the article Warren says: “Like all crises, the challenges journalism faces are rewriting everything we thought we knew about the news media and causing us to question the basis on which the industry has survived and flourished.” Whilst journalists are using technology to find new and progressive ways to keep the public informed, in the report 70 per cent revealed they’re now experiencing increased workloads due to a shrinking of the workforce.  

As to the future, 19 per cent said they were excited about the future of journalism, but 35 per cent said they were pessimistic about their prospects. 

Just like the PR industry has to modify the rule book in terms of how it uses social media and the Internet to help its clients participate in conversations and reach new influencers outside heritage media; by the same token journalists and publishers face even tougher challenges to retain relevance, especially as audiences continue to fragment the world over and chose multiple sources for information. Add to this the financial crisis now sweeping the world and further cost pressures will only amplify the speed of change.

The Australian article looks at what might evolve if mainstream news organisations collapse, citing research from the City University of New York. That says an organic news organisation could evolve – based on bloggers, video shooters and photographers, it would be augmented by community managers, program developers artists and run by just a handful of editors, all on an annual budget of $2.1 million. 

On a brighter note, and to update on my last post about PC Magazine’s decision to cull its print title, Roy Morgan has just released circulation figures in Australia for the last 12 months. The good news is that PC magazines did remarkably well. PC User’s readership climbed from 281,000 to 313,000 while APC went up from 275,000 to 280,000. PC Authority went up from 154,000 to 158,000, and PC Powerplay up from 111,000 to 115,000. Netguide was the only tech title to record a fall, dipping from 106,000 to 99,000. For even more analysis, check out last year’s results to compare.

Some good news to end on.

 

 

Whilst there is a lot of attention and focus right now on the recession and how it will impact IT spending, I am sure the Wednesday’s news that PC Magazine will close its print edition to go 100 per cent online did not go unnoticed. I would imagine this decision will have many asking themselves the question “if PC Magazine can’t sustain itself, who can?”

It is a trend that we have seen in Australia with PC World doing the same thing some months back.

So, is this a shock or simply a result of market forces?

Having spent nine good years myself at Yellow Pages through the late 80s to the mid 90s, there was a belief then that the print directory would disappear. It didn’t happen and the book is still going strong and has a place in most homes sitting underneath the phone. But of course, online consumption is powering ahead and at some stage I am sure it will all go online. 

But in light of PC Magazine’s decision, is this going to be a watershed moment for the PC and technology magazine industry?

Arguably, PC Magazine has been the world’s number one PC publication for much of its history, so this decision will make many other publishers take note and consider their strategies.

Personally, I think online is not a problem and in fact opens new opportunities for us and our clients: deadline cycles change, faster news cycles, more opportunity for video, for reader comments and so on. Also, much easier to track and monitor stories. Bring it on.

But with the global financial crisis and such a Goliath dropping its print edition, it’s hard not to imagine it won’t have some kind of knock-on effect. Let’s hope not. Long live technology magazines, if not in print, online.


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With much uncertainty and chatter on how the economic crisis will impact the technology sector in 2009, I thought now would be a good time to share some thoughts and seek other’s opinions.

In Australia, the panic button has not been hit, but keen to get a sense from our global friends on the mood elsewhere.

If history is a measure on what may happen, those hardest hit in times like this have tended to be the hardware and software vendors, especially the consumer sector. But on the flip side, other segments like the IT services industry have done ok and continue to enjoy growth with cost conscious CIOs keen to outsource to third parties to save on their dwindling budgets.  

Gartner has just released its top 10 strategic technologies for 2009 (not sure if this list was produced before the latest melt down), but nonetheless it would indicate that for some software categories it may not all be doom and gloom. If there is direct business value and associated cost savings that bodes well. If there isn’t, then trouble looms. But that should be the case at any time regardless of a recession.

Personally, I still think some of these technologies may still be a low priority if the funds start to dry up. What do you think?

For ease of use here is Gartner’s 2009 crystal ball:

  1. Virtualisation
  2. Servers, beyond blades
  3. Web-oriented architectures
  4. Enterprise mashups
  5. Specialised systems
  6. Social software and social networking
  7. Unified communications
  8. Business intelligence
  9. Green IT

Incredibly, Green IT was number one last year. At a time when the environment needs all the protection it can get, this forecast is a tad disappointing.  Other technologies that have dropped back in priority include unified communications, which was number two last year.

 

However, an analyst here in Australia, Bruce McCabe, at S2 Intelligence disagrees with Gartner. In an interview with ZDNet Australia he says everyone is still very focused on power consumption in IT hardware and there is no question that green IT has continued to move up the list of priorities.

With much commentary to come on just how the technology sector will weather the economic downturn, many of our clients will be adjusting their tactics and strategies for 2009 and into 2010.

Is there going to be a major slowdown in technology spending, or will organisations still take advantage of the benefits that technology can and does represent?

 

 

 

This may be a slightly controversial post with many different opinions floating around. Let me know what you think and whether this is a global trend.

Nick Davies, an investigative journalist of 30 years’ standing who works mainly for England’s Guardian newspaper, has put the spotlight rather savagely on his own industry and questioned what he sees as a deeply disturbing decline in journalistic standards. He also cites PR as a contributor. These assertions were recently aired in a TV interview in Australia on the ABC.

Davies says that journalistic standards are declining the world over as cost cutting and government pressures take toll on the industry. In his book, Flat Earth News, which focuses mainly on the state of UK quality newspapers, he argues that the combination of manipulation by government and the PR industry on a media industry under endless cost-cutting pressures and an expanding workload is a pattern repeated the world over. An irony of timing with big staff cuts just announced at Australia’s oldest newspaper group, Fairfax Media.

In the interview Davies says, “Big corporations have taken over newspapers, which used to be owned by small family firms, and injected the logic of commercialism into newsrooms and that logic has overwhelmed the logic of journalism.

“The big structural sign of that is that all across the developed world these new corporate owners of the newsrooms have cut editorial staff at the same time as they’ve increased the output of those staff.  And the result of that is, crudely put… in the UK we did a big calculation on this, your average Fleet Street reporter now has only a third of the time to spend on each story that he or she used to have 20 years ago. If you take away time from reporters, you are taking away their most important working asset. So they can’t do their jobs properly any more.

“In this commercialised world, you have journalists who instead of being active gatherers of news – going out and finding stories and making contacts and doing funny old-fashioned things like checking facts, they’ve become instead passive processors of second-hand information, stuff that come up on the wire Reuters or AP, stuff that comes from the PR industry. And they churn it out. I use this word “churnalism” instead of journalism.”

Davies clearly feels journalists are led along, particularly by the PR industry. His examples are not so much in the technology sector, although he does talk about the millennium bug, but more mainstream. He also notes a pattern of many journalists who have lost their job moving across to PR.

Davies says the impact of electronic technology is very complex on this whole problem.

Whilst he admits journalists can do more research from the desktop and stories remain online permanently, the second implication is that they’ve lost their deadlines.  He says the pressure is immense, always there five minutes ahead of your nose every day. Not only that, but journalists now have to write the story, do an audio version, a vodcast, a podcast, and so it goes on. The end result is the quality of the work is going down even though the amount and the variation of the product is increasing.

And his thoughts on bloggers is also quite depressing.

“I don’t agree with the view that we will be saved by the operation of citizen journalists and bloggers…..an awful lot of what bloggers put out is false, is crazy ideas and crazy facts, to the extent that bloggers have reliable information very often that’s because they’re feeding off the small extent to which the mainstream media are coming up with reliable information. If the mainstream is going to carry on getting weaker, as I fear, then the proportion of reliable information which the bloggers come up with will also decline,” he says.

And his prognosis for TV and radio is no different. “It’s in the same kind of mess that the print media are in. There’s no difference, I’m afraid, because news is expensive and unless we find a new financial model we won’t be able to deliver it and I don’t quite see where that new financial model is coming from and I don’t know any media proprietor who can see it either. They’re all very worried.”

Oh dear.

Personally, whilst there are some points in this article that I concur with, I think the accusation of PR being a big contributor to the quality of journalism is a bit of a stretch. Like many industries in this modern era, publishers have to change their business models and this will impact their operations. This is changing the way in which journalists spend their working day. But technology can also help and I don’t think Davies looks at that side much either in this interview. I haven’t read the book, but my hunch is that it will be overlooked.

I think the technology press are adapting well, blending online and print, or dropping print and going totally online. We have seen the size of editorial teams decline and technology journalists are getting younger. But the young ones seem very adaptable, taking content for print, shooting a video and posting fast. Many of them are also generalists rather than specialists. But despite those circumstances, they are smart, savvy people and it is no different trying to get a story up with them now than it was three years ago. In fact, with some smaller books due to the decline in advertising spend, in many instances it is getting harder.

Go figure!

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