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There’s no doubt that 2009 was a year that (further) changed our job as PR professionals. As I’m sure you’ve heard a million times, it’s an all new, ever changing world and we need to learn, move and adapt quickly. But, in concrete terms, what does that mean?

From my point of view (mostly from the agency side) I thought I’d list out the priorities for a tech PR practitioner in 2010. I think they stand for both experienced professionals and people just getting into PR.

One thing is for sure: our job is indeed getting more and more complex, challenging, and fascinating. All three qualities that have kept me in the same business for so many years.

1. Becoming a Content Creator. Technologies and the media environment are making it possible for companies to reach out to their stakeholders directly. PR must lead content creation. Cisco has done that very well for quite some time now, with News@Cisco. IBM is now following with the recent hire of Steve Hamm. I am sure many others will follow. A content strategy is pivotal in any good public relations plan.

2. Telling Stories Visually. As PR professionals we need to become better visual storytellers. Read The Back of the Napkin for  inspiration – you can get the new companion workbook to put Roam’s principles into practice on Amazon.  Perfect way to start the new year!

3. Learn how to use multimedia tools. Now that you’ve put Content and Visual Storytelling at the center, learn how to make news using all the multimedia tools available and how to develop and manage an editorial calendar (or hire people who do it well.) We will see more journalists getting in-house to do precisely this. Steve Hamm at IBM won’t be the only one.

4. Get a Room! I mean a media room. Nowadays it is so much easier to have a studio close to your executives or your clients so you can easily shoot video without taking away a lot of their time. This can be very handy in times of crisis where you want a quick response. In this post you can find specific suggestions on my favorite equipment.

5. Become a social media expert (if you are not one already.) Social Media is integrated in everything we do. PR professionals that are not at least proficient in Social Media, are going to be obsolete before the end of the year. So, don’t rely only on “experts”. Become an expert.

6. Think 360. Talking about integration, don’t stop at social media. Think about all the communication disciplines. Clients and companies face communication or reputation (or both) challenges. Rarely can something be solved by one communication discipline. PR, AR Marketing, IR, HR (Internal Communication), and in some instances Sales and Customer Service needs to work together in a more integrated way than ever before.

7. Develop new services and become more efficient. More for less is here to stay. Now that companies have learned (by necessity) to do and demand from their agency partners to get more for less, why would they go back to getting less for more? For agencies that means providing higher-value services and be more efficient in providing traditional support.

8. Identify the right measurement criteria for your needs. If #7 is true (and believe me, it is), ROI is going to be even more important than before. Flexible measurement solutions, that cost less than 10% of the total investment, will become critical for the success of a Corporate Communication department and for the agency.

9. Integrate your customers in your PR planning. As consumers are co-brand managers, really playing a major role in shaping global brands like Google, Apple and Ford, B2B companies need to work closely with their customers so they can become co-brand managers too. What they say, think or write about will affect your reputation and brand building. A hint? It’s not just about developing and pitching case studies.

10. Understand where influence begins and how it works. Too often I hear that PR is going to die (yawn) because social media is changing the media landscape so there is less and less traditional media. The reality is that PR is not only media relations. The big opportunity for PR professionals is to understand the new “influencer” landscape to a greater detail than before. Understand the ecosystem where your company or client belongs to, and how to engage those influencers and the people who influence them.

My best wishes to a wonderful 2010.

Jan 04

Get a Room!

By that I mean, get a media room.

No need for big, expensive equipment anymore

No need for big, expensive equipment anymore

Nowadays it’s so much easier to have a studio near where your executives or your clients are so you can easily shoot video without taking away a lot of their time. In a time of crisis, this allows for a quick response.

In this post some suggestions on the equipment to buy:

  • An HD Camcorder:  A great choice for a good HD camcorder is this JVC or a cheaper option could be this Canon
  • A few Flip Cams: I’d suggest to buy a few of Flips for the PR team (in-house and agency) so they can easily shoot some good footage (at trade shows, during interviews, to prep spokespeople, etc)
  • Software: You will already get iMovie included in your Mac, perfect for easy to use editing. If you want more features, you can get Final Cut PRO 7 or at least Final Cut Express
  • Finally you will need good storage (I like this one), a tripod (I love Manfrotto!) and lighting.

Happy Shooting!

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.

The media and communications worlds may be in great turmoil and evolution respectively, but a few things remain the same. Media and PR pros both love lists. Lists bring order to things, allow analysts to analyze, and give a platform for brands to say, “see why you should love me”.

This year’s World’s Best Companies list from BusinessWeek ventures to teach our technology PR discipline a little bit more.

Here are a few lessons, some old some new, that jumped out at me.

  1. Packaging matters, and the name “Best” is a poor choice in this environment. While BusinessWeek and A.T. Kearney have partnered on this project for multiple years, and I respect their desire to build name equity, the community comments are telling. Just nine comments on the BW site to-date, most of which are self-serving or confused. Compare that to three pages of comments on Huffingtonpost debating the definition of “best” and propose instead that “best” be reserved for those companies focused on treatment of workforce, sustainability and societal attributes. Is there anything wrong with a shareholder value-driven ranking in my mind? No. But consider the communications environment before saying globalization + shareholder return = best companies. Or call it Best Investments.
  2. Rethink your client’s corporate presentation. At least in this list’s view, there are clear traits for the World’s Best Companies. A commitment to innovation, diversified portfolio, aggressive expansion, strong leadership, and a clear vision for the future. Corporate presentation outline for 2010? Check.
  3. Question how global your globalness really is. If you describe your company (or your client) as being global, what percentage of your sales come outside your home region? A.T. Kearney examined the 2,500 largest publicly listed companies in the world, honing in on those with a minimum of $10 billion in 2008 sales with at least 25% coming from outside the company’s home region.
  4. B-to-B Technology may be all guts, but B-to-C Technology gets the glory. Technology and Telecom get the nod from BusinessWeek for their strong showing. But a closer look shows b-to-c technology performing much stronger than b-to-b with rankings from Nintendo (7974.T), Google (GOOG) Apple (AAPL) and Amazon.com (AMZN). And while it’s a bit of a shocker to see the telecom sector getting a shout-out, it all depends where you’re selling services. Telecom companies MTN (No. 7) (South Africa) and América Móvil (AMX) (No. 18) (Mexico) are growing quite well, thank you very much.

A.T. Kearney says looking forward they see two important factors that are most likely to drive global economic performance – “leveraging technology and innovation to enhance productivity, and demographic shifts such as graying populations. ”

The former bodes well for technology PR pros. Until then, long live the list!


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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.

I’ve come across quite a bit of blogger backlash against the PR industry of late, and the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that it’s sometimes really hard to teach an old horse new tricks.

I’ve talked myself hoarse (ok lame pun kinda intended) about how I don’t regard communicating in the digital space as rocket science, but more of an extension of the basics us comms “professionals” should already innately know…just on new platforms. However, a steady chain of #fail examples that have recently been shared with me are now making me rethink what I thunk before.

Fail #1 Spamology

This is when PR people think that blasting everyone and their mother en masse without doing their homework properly is ok. Did I hear you say “blogger list”? While some journalists might still be forgiving of “To-the-editor” pitches mass-sent to 100 BCC email addresses via a wire service (still regularly practiced today by many), for goodness sake, how far do you really think you’re going to get with a one-size-fits-all play these days when there’s so much Google-able information readily available in a split-second search?

Is it really so hard to drop someone a personal note to say “Dear [person's real name], [make reference to reporter's beat/blogger's area of interest and/or a relevant article/post], would you be interested in [give quick summary of what I've got]? I felt it would be of interest to you/your readers because [insert proper reasons here]. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like more information.”

PR101 really.

No reply = no interest (or a crappy/spammy subject line). Learn how to write like a human being.

Fail #2 Communicating isn’t a one-way street

Making sure all those key messages got pushed out from the rostrum may have worked in the oldskool days but now that we’re swimming in a lovely sea of citizen journalists with social media footprints that would put Bigfoot to shame, top-down decrees don’t work so well anymore.

What does your audience want to see/hear? What feedback have they been giving and how have you been answering it (if you’ve bothered to listen at all)? What’s in it for them? Giving a blogger a lame freebie and asking for in-depth “coverage” in return is like giving a journalist a goodie bag and asking for a feature story.

Fail #3 There’s no Cliff’s Notes for being digitally savvy

Sorry Cliff, but there’s no regurgitating theory on this one. Anyone can quote a social media guru but that doesn’t always translate to communication smarts.

Today’s communicator absolutely has to be actively using the new communication platforms out there and participating in conversations with others in the space in order to fully understand how they work and be able to provide solid counsel. And if you’re not, it shows. To sift out the wheat from the chaff, I often ask questions like “so what exactly do you mean by blogger engagement and online community building?”. Just because you build it (a Facebook fan page is all the rage these days), doesn’t mean they’ll come. And who said Facebook was right for the brand anyways?

These days, I’m leaning towards hiring folks who are digital mavens first and schooled in textbook PR second. Why? Because if you’re already active online and have a decent audience, it probably means you’re doing something right in terms of communicating with the people you want to reach. Teaching you how to “angle-shoot”, write a press release or craft an FAQ list sounds like it wouldn’t take much extra.

Granted, good PR folks know how to get at the real story behind the spiel…online or offline…and I work with some of these gems. I just wish there were more all around to bring the meaning of “communicator” back up to where it’s supposed to be.

Nate Cochrane pens his rules for social media etiquette on Australian new site, iTNews. And in a style true to the very fundamentals of social media which encourage active sharing and participation, he has made a point to list the rules he outlines as a work in progress and has opened it up for discussion on the site.

One of the rules that he points out is one that we tend to forget: ‘Quality NOT quantity’. Too often PRs get flack for doing a last minute dash to sign up as many people in their network to become friends/ fans on their clients’ Facebook groups and pages or on their Twitter handles.

As PRs, we need to continue to educate our clients that the real value does not lie in the sheer volume of people we sign up but rather in the quality of the people we engage (even if it’s only a handful!).

Consider who your target audience is, where do they frequent and how to reach them. Who is in your fans/ friends extended networks. Are they the right audience to target?

Using Twitter as an example, it’s important to do the analysis and drill down into who the person is that you want to connect with, get to know them, follow them for a while and find out what they write about. Also have a look into who follows that person, are they the appropriate person for your client to be reaching out to or is there someone in their Twitter network that is better?

The following tool can help you determine the most appropriate people to follow:

http://flowingdata.com/2008/03/12/17-ways-to-visualize-the-twitter-universe/

If we want to get some real and long lasting results for our clients, the key is to make sure that we’re speaking to the right audiences!

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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Graham White from our Australian office picked up this piece coming from the UK.  The Archbishop of Westminster believes that social networks “..led young people to form “transient relationships”, which put them at risk of suicide when the relationships collapsed.

http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/facebook-myspace-put-teens-at-risk-of-suicide-church-20090803-e6hh.html

This piece follows an earlier discussion in Indonesia earlier in the year among the Muslim ulamaks, saying social networks promote promiscuity between the sexes, and there were calls for Facebook to be made “haram” (forbidden under Islamic practices).  Facebook, mind you, is the top-ranked site in Indonesia, with more than 800,000 users.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/indonesia-gives-facebook-the-nod-but-no-flirting-please-20090522-bi9v.html

Compare the thoughts of the Archbishop and the Indonesian ulamaks (whom I assume are not digital natives), with those of these commentators, (whom I assume are digital natives). 

http://www.alarabiya.net/views/2009/08/01/80498.html

http://www.bt.com.bn/en/analysis/2009/07/07/facebook_is_it_halal_or_haram

The reflection here is that social media/ networks are not just secular or technology or mass media or marketing phenomena, it’s impacting religious practices, so much so that religious leaders have started commenting on them. 

In other words, what’s clear is that social media/networks are truly affecting and changing society (well, at least in the developed nations with Internet access). 

With social media becoming such an impact into our lives, shouldn’t we embrace it more, and look at the positive aspects of it?

Could a new social search service with a name synonymous with ‘earth pig‘ have implications for marketing and communications? I think so.

Aardvark let’s you ask questions anonymously and receive answers from individuals in your or your friends’ social networks who may have relevant expertise.  The service is opt-in, anonymous and questions can be asked and received on the Web, through Twitter, email and so on.  There’s a homepage where you set up a profile but the process takes seconds and you never have to go back.

I’ve used Aardvark over the past few weeks and it’s enabled me to tap into distributed expertise – from people several degrees of separation removed from me – quickly and easily. It works so well that I find myself using Aardvark over Google for knowledge discovery.

So what are the implications for marketing and communications? Here are some preliminary ideas:

–       Internal Communications: It’s no secret that large enterprises have a problem with knowledge transfer and it’s no secret that social networking has been suggested as a possible solution.  I think Aardvark is more realistic for connecting employees. Why? Because an Aardvark-like service could be implemented and used so easily.

o    HR managers could log new employees into the system without those employees having to take any action. Job descriptions could be used to set up areas of expertise.

o    Employees would use it because the system can be accessed from virtually any medium.

o    Older employees not comfortable with traditional social networks? That’s fine; they can use the system perfectly well through email.

o    Younger employees more comfortable with a Twitter interface or mobile app? That’s easy to implement too.

–       Customer engagement: Imagine enrolling every new customer/user in an Aardvark-like service when you close the sale.  Customers would immediately be plugged into a network of experts (other customers) with similar challenges or issues and with almost no effort on their part.  Customers could be empowered to ask questions about products as well as issues relevant to their industry, job function etc.  As the broker of the relationship vendors benefit from delivering another value-added service (at minimal cost).  There’s also the potential opportunity for valuable data mining.

–       Thought leadership and expert visibility: This is the one that’s really captured my attention. Currently Aardvark is anonymous and the system routes you to the best resource based on user profiles. What if users had the option of selecting to receive answers from identified experts affiliated with a company, product or service?  How might this work?

o    Users might opt in to direct their questions to qualified and identified experts to obtain answers that require a higher degree of credibility (medical questions for instance)

o    Vendors, of course, would benefit from having a direct channel to promote their expertise and thought leadership.

o    Taking it a step further, users could rate vendor responses. Top rated vendors on a topic would get the first crack at relevant questions, thereby incentivizing them to provide value each time.

Answer sites, social networks and the chaos that is Twitter address each of these ideas/opportunities in their own ways but somehow Aardvark, because of its filtering, its simplicity, and the fact that it eliminates the burden of creating original content for a destination site, seems much more attractive to me. What do you think?

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