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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

I met with Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, at the Ogilvy PR offices in San Francisco. He shared with me his thoughts about what’s new in the blogosphere in 2009.

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.

 

 

I’m going to paint a bit of a picture and I’d like to see if you can determine the common thread between the following:

A typical day for me:

- Waking up to my ipod as an alarm clock

- Downloading and listening to podcasts on my commute

- Spordically checking blackberry while on the bus

- Scouring my Google Reader for news, alerts, trends

- Conducting daily business including conference calls, blogging (on TechPR Nibbles and a personal blog), Twitter-ing, e-mailing, etc.

- And, given the day, going onto Yelp, Facebook, Netvibes, LinkedIn, AIM, Google Chat, Twitter, etc. etc. etc.

The common thread? It’s all D.I.G.I.T.A.L

Which leads me to think about how much information we consume each day. We’ve all heard the statistics from way back when that noted how much our brains can process every day, hour, minute, etc. But can you imagine what that stat would look like now compared to two decades ago? We are, completely, totally immersed in digital consumption. Can we ever get too full?

I love having each of my days filled with technology. Yet, I’ll admit, there are some days I just want to come home and rest my eyes and not stare at a screen. (It is during these moments that I remember how nice it is to pick up a book and turn pages!) Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ve ever been so informed as I am now. Yes, as a member of Gen Y, I’ve grown up in a digital atmosphere of early adopters and trend-loving peers. But our world is accelerating at such a rapid pace, we Gen Y’ers are definitely not alone.

I consider a large part of my job to be consumption. Yes, I have a lot of producing to do, too. Don’t get me wrong- I love both parts. The Digital World, if you will, allows me to be immersed, 24/7 in news, opinions, reviews, trends, events and beyond and it’s done in a variety of outlets. Yes, I still love to read Real Simple & BusinessWeek when I’m on flights or sitting in a doctor’s office- you can’t beat the glossy pages, let’s be honest. Yet, it goes without saying that technology allows us to do our jobs better and to succeed. It allows us to reach for knowledge at a more rapid pace and to utilize it to the best of our ability.

Did I ever see myself working in Tech PR originally and loving all things digital? No. But it’s introduced me to a world beyond my normal interests because our clients are innovators and influencers. They inspire and they create. So, while some days we may feel too bombarded by digital devices, social media and the likes, when you take advantage of it- the consumption can truly be…delicious.

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!

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.

Our server at work was on the brink of crashing last week (ok, that’s an exaggeration but our IT manager did send out a warning email). Apparently, too many of us were ‘secretly’ streaming videos of the Olympics during work hours. Seems like many people around the world have the same idea, though.

These Olympics have been aptly dubbed “The Digital Games”. Millions of viewers – up to 5% – will watch the Olympics without ever turning on their tallies, and NBC Universal will stream a record 2,200 hours of live footage online.

With figures like these, it makes me wonder – will the Internet become our future medium of choice for watching the Olympics (or any other World Cup/Superbowl equivalent)? Call me old fashioned, but for me, part of the Olympic fun is about sharing the big screen with a bunch friends at the pub while cheering for your team. What do you think?

Either way, it sure is paving for an interesting way of marketing around the Olympics. Gone are the days when big sponsors “pay a gazillion dollars to the IOC, then pay a gazillion more to brag like heck about it on TV and in print ads” (read this article from USA Today ‘Faster, higher, stronger and digital’. It also has some great examples of the digital marketing strategies implemented by savvy companies like Lenovo and Johnson & Johnson – such as athletes blogging and video sharing).

Will the rise of the Internet mean the death of the TV? I hope not. (…but I may just be swayed if the pubs start streaming live internet videos on the big screen).

One wise man who arguably has the best bird’s eye view of the situation is Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP. According to Sir Martin in his interview with CNBC on the day of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, whilst “this is really the first truly digital games…[digital is] only 10% of client budgets, it’s 20% of consumer time. By the time clients move their budgets to 20%, we’ll be spending more time on the web. But you’re right. They all work together.”

Here is an important post on TechCrunch about the decision of the SEC to recognize corporate blogs as public disclosure. This is just a natural step towards more visual communication, something we have been talking about on this blog for some time and something we are pushing our clients to embrace more and more. I predict we will see companies (probably mid-size technology companies) to embrace this more rapidly than others. One thing is to have the SEC making this decision, the other is to change the corporate culture overnight. It will require time and as PR consultants we will need to sit down with our clients and help them go through this process. It seems easy. But it’s not. Game on.

I’ve been reading a lot about network effects lately. I attribute this to the large number of Bill Gates retrospectives that describe how Microsoft dominated the PC area. Also there’s Steve Lohr’s story in the New York Times this Monday which describes how the principle applies to Google.

The network effect seems to perfectly describe the value of social networks. However, I can’t help wondering: what happens as the Web becomes more open, more semantic? Doesn’t increased data portability, by definition, undermine the effect as it applies to social networking companies?

Social networking has helped individuals (and the groups they belong to) benefit from the network effect in new ways. That’s not going to go away. But is it possible that continued innovation will eradicate the ability of the host networks themselves to benefit?

What’s to stop social networks from ending up as widgets easily added or subtracted from a fully-customizable, personalized and interactive home page (iGoogle or myYahoo)? How can they stop it from happening?

I’m genuinely curious. Anyone have any ideas?

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.

Graham’s post on the decline in B2B blogging reminded me of this from Shel Holtz arguing, persuasively, that social media is ideally suited for B2B environments. Interestingly Holtz cites last year’s bullish Forrester report while Graham cites this year’s more downcast findings.

I agree with much of what Graham writes and suspect the recent findings are illustrative of the fact that we’re still very much in an evolutionary phase. As people jump on the social media bandwagon there’s bound to be a great deal of disappointment. Furthermore, when professionals are asked to add content creation to their ever-expanding list of job responsibilities there’s bound to be some push back or, after a quick burst, an inevitable decline in the level of activity.

I wonder if part of the problem some companies experience with blogging is that they are asking, or expecting, to much. There’s tremendous pressure for every business (in virtually every industry) to establish itself as a thought leader. I suspect that most blogs are launched as thought leadership platforms, thereby resulting in pressure on the bloggers themselves to write something new and exciting with every keystroke.

I’ve believed for a long time that this is the reason some PR blogs are unreadable. Setting aside the inexcusably poor writing, many feel the need to establish thought leadership by writing – at great length and in a constant loop – about how social media is reinventing public relations. This leads to a constant recycling of ideas which is masked (poorly) by a mixture of breathless hyperbole, impenetrable linguistic complexity and the forceful declaration of the painfully obvious.

To me, and I think the examples Holtz provides dovetail with this, a B2B blog is an opportunity for a company to reveal itself to its potential customers, partners and employees. I’m reminded of David Ogilvy’s recommendation to clients in “Confessions of an Advertising Man.” When evaluating agencies: “find out if you like them; the relationship between client and agency has to be an intimate one, and it can be hell if personal chemistry is sour.”

A B2B blog, I feel, is ideal– especially in the service sector – for providing a window to customers (and others) that will help them determine whether or not the authors are people they want to do business with. A B2B blog can reveal how a company and its employees think, their personalities, their approach to considering issues, knowledge of certain spaces and so on. With this in mind it strikes me that it’s as legitimate (and as valuable) to write about experiences with the Nintendo Wii (as this EDS blogger does), as it is to come up with, and share, a new idea.

One final point, I’m not sure Forrester’s recent findings are really all that negative. After all, if 53% of respondents spurned blogging that suggests 47% embraced it. How many embraced blogging ten years ago? From that perspective 47% looks pretty good.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide