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Today, watch 60 seconds with Genevieve Haldeman, VP of Corporate Communications at Symantec, on how to get into tech PR.


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Enterprise technology PR professionals, stop your whining and start your engines.  So you think the media and blogging worlds are only interested in your brand story if it is centered around a CE gadget  running on 3G, delivering cloud applications and fueled by solar cells.  Not so!

The b2b tech PR community breathed a palpable sigh of relief this morning (over coffee) in seeing William M. Bulkeley’s half page WSJ print (yes that medium) story on Cutting Tech’s Energy Bill; Computer Makers See Profits in Retooling Clients’ Data Centers.

Just what should we take from this?  A perfect storm of questions more business journalists should be asking like:

a. Where is enterprise IT growth coming from?  Data centers, Virtualization, Storage – you betcha, and more.
b. How is the corporate world impacted by energy costs and how will pain on the bottom line drive adoption of power-savings technologies?
c. Should more corporations be publicly reporting on their plans to curb electricity consumption?

Clearly, interest in speaking to ‘green for dollars-sake’ has not ebbed.  As b2b tech PR professionals, it’s our job more than ever to think broadly about the constituencies who have an interest in these issues.  Listen to them and engage with them as appropriate.

What do you see as the great untold b2b stories today?   What companies are doing a good job in your view of making their enterprise technology stories relevant to broader social, environmental and economic trends?  We want to hear from you!

Disclaimer: Ogilvy PR represents HDS, Brocade, and SAVVIS who have data center power-savings initiatives.

Disclaimer: Ogilvy advertising works with IBM.

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!

In the past few years I saw a lot of PR agencies launching a Clean Tech Practice. In the interest of full disclosure, I was very tempted to do the same. I am passionate about tech and a big fan of everything green  (and I am not even Irish!)

It was during a conversation with a major clean tech company that I understood that Clean Tech is just a label, not where “clean” tech companies should play nor should position themselves. It’s about Energy, or better yet about Renewable Energies and how new technologies can find new solutions to old problems (urgently).

At that point a light bulb went on (and it was a fluorescent bulb!) — As Ogilvy PR, we have a lot of expertise in green IT (from data centers to semiconductors), and we do have a lot of expertise in traditional energy and renewable energies — so the easy part was to combine our existing strengths in both public affairs and technology PR. Et voila! Suddenly we had something the market was craving for. An agency with deep knowledge of who influences and decides public policy and how to reach them with politically effective communications, while offering a broader perspective into technology and business-to-business PR that looks beyond product public relations.

It’s not a new practice, it’s not a new group, it’s just the combination of expertise we already have within our firm. Now available to our clients. Don’t just call it Clean Tech.

Personally I am not a fan of Second Life – it has never captured my imagination and with three children, two of teenage years, it hasn’t captured their’s either. Clearly, for the virtual world creators at Linden Lab, and the early adopters that got on board at the start, it has been a success. But like most things, once the hype and excitement of a new application wanes, that is when the real effort begins. Can Second Life really sustain a presence, continue to innovate and attract new users, whether personal or business? You decide.

But one Australian researcher, Kim MacKenzie, a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology, is trying to find the answer. Kim is completing her honours year thesis around the business applications of Second Life. She studied 20 international brands over three months last year and has come to the conclusion that many were either ghost towns or worse, had shut up shop. She often found herself wondering around with no evidence of anybody in. See the full article posted today by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Asher Moses.

Linden Labs released figures in April that showed Second Life active users in Australia were 12,245, down from 16,000 towards the end of last year. Not very impressive. According to the Herald article by Asher, it is suggested that brand engagement is not really going to be in Second Life, or not at this time.

MacKenzie herself suggests the application is still a few years ahead of the curve and companies hadn’t done enough to advertise their presence there; or, when more advanced features are added such as voice chat, she believes it will grow in popularity. I guess time will tell.

I don’t know what your experience is with or in Second Life. Are you a corporation that has had success? Or has it been an experiment or a tool to engage your staff? Or do you agree with Kate’s thesis? Or are we all missing the point? Do share.

As I sit here typing my debut post for this blog, I can’t help but think of the dozens of topics I should write about– my thoughts on social media, the new widgets I downloaded on my iPhone, my new obsession with Twitter, or even Facebooking at work (I am guilty, and so are you.)  Just thinking of these topics made me realize how in one very short year after moving from Pennsylvania to San Francisco, I have warped into a digital girl. Prior to working as an AAE in the Technology Practice, I had no idea that blogs were big business and social networking was encouraged at work.  I still can’t figure out where all the “stuff” goes when we upload pictures or download music, it’s all still a mystery. I’m still learning.

All this digital information, mind-numbing technology, and creative innovation that surrounds us each day is extremely overwhelming, borderline suffocating but in a strange way humbling and inspiring. While studying in college I refused to read dissertation papers or reports online, I had to feel the pages, trace the words, and touch the pictures. I hardly signed on to AIM and I refused to respond to text messages, thinking it was so silly to not pick up the phone and press “call.”  I honestly thought personal blogs were rants and ramblings with no credibility (many still are), and heck, I created a blog last year just for my friends and family to read so they would stop calling me in the middle of the night while living abroad in South Korea, hence the very creative blog title. In one short year, my perception of technology has changed, drastically.

We, namely Gen Y, grew up bombarded with information overload. We are a spoiled generation, not in terms of material things, but in digital goods. We watched as the tech bubble burst in Silicon Valley, we witnessed 9/11 while sitting in classrooms, we quit Harvard and started an online yearbook, and we asked Google, not God, why the sky is blue.  We have a reputation of being “know-it-alls” because of all this technology. You can’t blame us, because with the click of our fingers, we feel like we know it all.

This year, Gen Y Americans have more incentive, power and voice to rock the vote and elect the next President of the United States.  Presidential Candidates are blogging and even YouTube is playing a fundamental role during debates. We are optimistic for the future and are more wired and globally connected with our peers than previous generations.  Yet, we are facing an economic downturn, a grim job market and a mortgage crisis.  We are renting, not buying, borrowing, not paying, dating, not marrying…or maybe that’s just me ;). We are aware of what’s imminent, but hopeful because like I said, we live in a digital world, and with technology, we can find answers, innovate, communicate, educate, spark controversy and conversation, and bring about change. 

[Disclaimer: author is an extreme optimist.]


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Lina Han

by Lina Han
Category: Global, Tech PR, Trends

China has already earned a gold medal this week. According to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), there are now 253 million internet users in China, knocking the US off its pedestal. The US now has a meager 223 million users.

This is one competition the US will not likely win again. Most Americans (about 75%) are already internet users while only 19% of China’s population is. With so much potential in this market, who wouldn’t want a little bite?

But I don’t advise taking a nibble without more understanding. After all, emerging markets are very different from the more familiar mature market. Here are my “three” cents for thought re approaching tech in Emerging Markets:

#1. There is no “one size fits all.” Local needs in China will differ greatly from those in Brazil or Indonesia. Tech in emerging markets often bridges the digital divide by increasing connectivity. How this is achieved varies greatly.

#2. Realize a lack of infrastructure exists. Many countries with emerging markets may not have the infrastructure (say, reliable electricity) to support technology. These countries also lack a dependable distribution system. Therefore, developing relationships with local players is necessary to your success.

#3. Now comes the most difficult part: how do we justify selling technology to someone who could instead spend their money on medicine? We know technology creates opportunities by improving access to health care and education while also increasing communication and competitiveness in commerce. How do we convince them of this in our communication approach?

Emerging markets are often seen as a sort of new “frontier.” Just remember that this is a whole new animal you’re approaching. Treat it differently from your cat at home!

Half Moon Bay that is at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech. Reflecting on what I found to be some of the best ideas shared yesterday:

- How can social media be leveraged to make your employee talent more highly engaged? Gary Hamel of London Business School cited a Towers Perrin study across 16 countries, and it found that nobody has more than 20% of employees who say they feel highly engaged. If we can engage customers, allow them to congregate and engage with collectively work around a problem, why can’t we do more with our talent?

- Where is your platform strategy? This was a recurring theme; that innovative companies are providing platforms as a strategy to allow others to build things for them.

- CC Per Annum. OK, I just made that up, but after hearing CEOs Michael Dell, Marc Benioff and Brad Smith all cite at different times in the afternoon just how many customer conversations their companies are having annually, I think we’re going to start seeing that as a communications department proof point in an effort to show innovation from the outside in. For the record, Intuit has two billion customer conversations per year.

- Books, toys and web services? I had wondered how Amazon Web Services had come to be. Jeff Bezos shared that Amazon built web services for themselves over four years ago in an effort to free up their engineering hours that were not directly adding customer value. The idea came up a few years after that to get into the web services business. I also like the analogy he used – that we’re moving into a new world where like a brewery, they’ll be able to focus on the beer and not on having their own power generator to produce it.

- Best insight of the day: Small business owners will happily share tips and advice with other similar small business owners as long as they’re not in the same zip code. Florist to florist, etc. Just think of the opportunities to facilitate that for a company like Intuit.

Which brings me to the some of the best remarks of the day, made by Intuit CEO Brad Smith. I had never seen Mr. Smith speak before, and he has a pretty polished approach, so much so that I worried he was going to be too smooth and salesy. Many around me agreed. But he ended up surprising us all and really delivered a candid commentary on his challenge; He said they’re asking themselves at Intuit, will their 25 years of success be an accelerant or inhibitor? He says the answer is with the youth in the company. He gave a great anecdote. TurboTax is a 20+ year old product, so there is resistance to change. An engineer proposed that they put the live user community inside the product for the first time – so users can talk to other users while doing taxes. They took a risk, did a test. Guess what happened? 44% of users asked the questions and got community answers, and at a higher accuracy rate than ever before. He concluded, “And it cost us zero.”

It was a great day. And I’m looking forward to more. Oh yeah, and Neil Young is here.

Not too long ago, I found myself standing in the middle of the “condiments” aisle in my local grocery store, staring cross-eyed at shelves full of Jelly choices. After about 5 minutes of picking up different kinds of grape jelly and studying the labels, I actually had to call my wife and ask her (with a not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm), “which of the 14 jars of grape jelly do you want?” Among others, there were organic, regular, low-sugar, sugar-free, preservatives, jam, peanut butter swirl, tall skinny jar, short wide jar, plastic jar, glass jar, etc. etc. – the options seemed limitless.

This isn’t a new discussion and there are some interesting studies that cover the impact of too much choice. I found the image that was in a recent and quite interesting National Post article particularly striking – look at all of those TVs!?.

Then, to my suprise, I read a story in the Sydney Morning Herald that actually references an experiment on too much choice and Jam…”In the experiment, two groups of supermarket shoppers were asked to sample jam. One group was given six jams to taste, the other group was given 24. Thirty per cent of the first group purchased something after the tasting, only 3 per cent of the second group made a purchase.”

For technology communications professionals, choice poses more than just challenges in our personal lives. We’re faced with the added test of differentiating both our own services as well as the products or services were are helping promote. Whether you are launching a new consumer technology, marketing an enterprise storage device, a core router or a new professional service, crafting a unique message that stands out.

We are also forced to consider the fragmentation of the media industry and understand how media is being consumed, accessed or shared by readers so we can devise the best approach to reaching a target audience is an ever-increasing challenge .

Just consider that the two stories I’ve linked to in this article are from international news sources that I found by reading Google News Alerts – not my local paper or the blogs I follow on a daily basis.

I read the vast majority of my news via my iGoogle homepage, which now includes a widget for my Facebook, Twitter and Flickr accounts as well as several other applications I used to have to individually check on a daily basis. Here are just a few of my Tabs on my iGoogle homepage:

Storage Blogs and News

PR Blogs (You’ll see my Denver Bias here as several are from my hometown)

Technology News

The challenge to all of us is to be the jelly that stood out enough for the 3 percent to actually read about and then purchase.

I was reading a story this morning from B2B magazine that the popularity of blogging by b-to-b marketers is waning. This is according to Forrester Research’s “How to Derive Value from B2B Blogging” report released Monday. A stand out finding is that 53% of respondents said blogs were either marginal or irrelevant in their 2008 marketing strategy.

Why?

Whilst not an expert and without knowing the companies surveyed, my gut tells me that the only reason for a negative response like this could be because the content is not relevant and is not driving conversations. I also imagine the reason for starting a blog in the first place was a knee jerk reaction due to the interest and desire to embrace blogging as part of a corporate social media program.

Forrester recommends that companies give it another go, employing a few basic strategies like honing their voice on other public forums, becoming a resource rather than espousing company rhetoric.

Are we going to see a decline in the number of corporate blogs – one would expect that technology companies would have more success, especially within the markets they operate and the topics relevant to their buyers. Perhaps I am wrong. But with blogging and other conversational marketing activities now part of an employee’s job description, are we forcing the issue and as a consequence, finding that there is little of no value because the content is probably not worth the effort. These results in this Forrester survey would suggest that is happening.


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