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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

The year 2015: cars and skateboards will no longer be bound by gravity, and all films will be in 3D…so was the 1980’s cinematic vision of the future.

While Hollywood has been making good on its 3D movie promise, the lack of any hover mobile on the market is a bit of a disappointment for those of us who grew up on the Back to the Future films of the 80s. However, while our cars may not be taking to the skies anytime soon, it may be a source of some consolation to fans of flying DeLoreans that over the next few years several major auto makers will be unveiling what they claim will be the future of the automotive industry…

Coming to a dealership near you – Electric Vehicles for the Masses!

Many speculate about how successful these electric vehicles, or EVs, will be outside of the ‘green’ bastions of California, New England and the Pacific Northwest. However, from a PR standpoint there is little doubt that EVs have been extremely successful in generating a great deal of positive media coverage thus far. Over the past five months alone, there have been thousands of articles written about these new cars, and a major driver of this media coverage has been the partnerships that the major automotive companies in the EV game are entering into with the biggest names in technology.

Most recently, there has been a great deal of media attention paid to a potential Google partnership with a major car maker, which will entail integrating the Android operating system with existing onboard telematic technology.

The buzz created by Google’s foray into the automotive industry follows news generated by similar partnerships between other major automotive companies and top tech companies. For example, Microsoft plans to help solve potential problems that these new cars will cause the power grid by working with auto makers to implement its Hohm application into EVs. The technology is expected to prevent an ‘electrical traffic jam’ on our electrical grid by helping owners determine when to most efficiently and affordably recharge EV batteries.

While cars will most likely remain on the ground for some time to come, the automotive industry is working to ensure that EVs will be on the roads of tomorrow by making innovation a priority and by partnering with major tech companies in the process. From a PR perspective, the key takeaway is that these partnerships are major drivers for media coverage and that they are generating buzz among potential buyers.

Looking forward, it wouldn’t be surprising if these types of automotive-tech partnerships do more to make consumers more comfortable with the thought of owning an EV than auto shows or other traditional methods of marketing. What better way to lend some tech-cred to unproven products than to couple them with market leading technology brands?

While we will not have hover mobiles, being able to give voice commands to your electric car and enabling it to communicate with the power grid for the best energy rates via Google and Microsoft technology may be as close as we will get to Robert Zemeckis’ vision of the future without kitting out a DeLorean for time travel.

As a practitioner of green PR and marketing, I spend hours every week walking the fine line between sincere promotion of sustainable corporate ideals and the murky waters of corporate “greenwashing” – the general term to describe the practice of promoting disingenuous information to support the guise of an eco-friendly public image. Accordingly, being accused of greenwashing is a constant concern of mine, apparently for good reason.

In fact, a recent study found that 98 percent of products make claims that are greenwashed. While some may dismiss the label of “greenwashing” as a casualty of green PR and marketing, the damage caused to any organization found guilty of the practice can be severe. Consider just three of the six main greenwashing risks, as outlined by OgilvyEarth’s greenwashing guide:

  • Reputational Damage: Companies that greenwash risk their credibility within their industries and with consumers. Skepticism is a growing trend and ideal in our society, and people don’t hesitate to pick up on and alert others to anything they feel is insincere. Rebounding from a blow to one’s reputation is one of the hardest tasks a company can face.
  • Consumer Alienation: More than 50 percent of climate-savvy consumers believe brands’ sustainability-related claims are embellished or fabricated. With so many other options for eco-friendly products, skeptical buyers will be the first to walk away if they find a reason to believe a company is greenwashing.
  • Leadership Opportunity Cost: There is a $200 billion market in the U.S. for eco-friendly oriented products. Additionally, 38 percent of eco-minded consumers make an effort to purchase goods and services from socially-responsible companies, meaning there is huge potential for failure for businesses that choose to greenwash. But, there is also potential for success among those willing to lead the charge in genuine environmental efforts.

Many organizations, no matter how sincere their reasons for taking on corporate sustainability, run the risk of greenwashing. But to avoid being crowned with this notorious title, be honest about your environmental efforts and communicate your plans for reaching sustainability goals. Celebrate your accomplishments, but don’t embellish them – consumers will see straight through the hype. Take immediate action if concerns arise about your sustainability practices, that way you won’t give anyone a reason to believe you have something to hide. Lastly, always maintain your relationships in the industry and with media – this will only help to fortify your reputation and give you credibility when and where you need it.

Click here to download OgilvyEarth’s From Greenwash To Great: A Guide To Great Green Marketing (without the Greenwash).

You have to give the Texans credit. They do some things incredibly well.  Take economic development.  Texas has the most Fortune 500 company headquarters in the United States (at 58 HQs).  These guys and gals understand how to build financial structures that attract industry.

And now we see that those savvy Texans are making a land grab (photon grab) for solar manufacturing business in Texas.  The state is expected to soon approve a $500M bill aimed at subsidizing small scale solar users

Texas has executed so much better than some states (like mine, Colorado) at attracting headquarters and fostering development of market segment ecosystems that fuel the local business economy.  If they crack the solar grail, I’ll have to say they’re brilliant.  And I’m a New Englanda.

The business of solar is fascinating to me.  How Germany has leveraged a feed-in tariff system to lead the world.  And how, unlike the semi industry, solar manufacturing jobs are likely to be based where the projects are to be built and customer installed due to the sensitivities of glass and the cost of shipping it.  So what does that mean?   States need to get moving in their legislatures and get attracting those jobs, which means building the financing systems that will incubate the projects and ecosystems.

I’m told that citizens in Germany don’t scoff at the annual fee on their electric bill that underwrites their system as they see it as a direct investment towards clean energy and local clean tech jobs.

Could Texas be at the top of a future list of States With The Largest Share of the U.S. Renewable Energy Industry?  They surely know how to attract businesses.

Crazy like foxes, they are.

Tech PR in 2009 and beyond.

A new year. A new American President. A bad recession. There are many reasons why I have been thinking about the future of Tech PR, not just through 2009 but beyond. What is the role PR agencies play in this new world? I am an optimist by nature, and cautious by experience.

What can we expect to see, in the short term and the long? Is PR going to suffer as an industry?

I see seven major trends:

1.    Smart companies continue to invest in PR during recessions because this is the time to gain market share, differentiate yourself from your competition, build your brand and protect your reputation. I like the way Craig Barrett put it “You can’t save your way out of recession - you have to invest your way out.”

2.    PR agencies who can provide a seamless, integrated approach to tech companies will survive better than tech specialists. This is the time where you need to provide your clients with counsel on different issues, so you need to have a team of people with different backgrounds that you can pull from. Corporate reputation, crisis and issue management, consumer marketing, public affairs, government, and vertical expertise…the list goes on. The agency who can deliver a seamless, holistic mix has a huge competitive advantage (and will prove most useful to clients.)

3.    Tech companies need to learn how to better integrate PR and marketing. In a media world that is becoming more complex, fractured; where the difference between earned and paid media is blurry, companies that will develop a strategic, integrated marketing approach (we call it 360) will go beyond mere survival. It’s not about channels; it’s about how you engage with your stakeholders. The Obama campaign is an excellent example. Agencies that can deliver on that will hugely benefit from it (and so will their clients.)

4.    Social media is not killing PR agencies; on the contrary. It’s giving us more opportunities. We all read posts about social media killing PR… well, anyone who thinks PR is  just calling media doesn’t have a clue about what we actually do. As I mentioned above, the complexity of the environment is only adding square feet (and toys) to our already really fun sand box.

5.    Chief Content Officer. Content creation is key. With the media shrinking (every day we hear of layoffs at very prestigious media outlets) creating your own content and distributing it through different channels is critical to the success of building a powerful brand. Is it time for a new position? Chief Content Officer, anyone?

6.    The world is flat, yes. But it is also hot and crowded as Thomas Friedman pointed out. Two trends here. Global and Green. Let’s start with global. Clients need PR agencies to work with them on a global basis, but it’s not about “Think Globally, Act Locally” anymore. It’s about idea creation and sharing those ideas globally, efficiently. It’s about understanding the sensibilities of different markets and cultures.

7.    Green. As I wrote in my post the opportunity for working with green tech companies is huge. But the skill set needs to go beyond pure tech PR. You need to combine b2b tech with experience in public affairs, energy, government relations and corporate reputation.

PR is here to stay. Paraphrasing Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)” song, PR can never die, there’s more to the picture.

my my, hey hey
rock and roll is here to stay
it’s better to burn out
than to fade away
my my, hey hey

hey hey, my my
rock and roll can never die
there’s more to the picture
than meets the eye
hey hey, my my

Here is to a new era of responsibility.

I have found that corporate communications briefs for technology companies tend to have one thing in common.  “Make people see the amazing innovation we have here” they say.  Sometimes that innovation is easy to find, sometimes not.  The motivation for wanting that innovation brand association however can be murky but often has an undercurrent of ‘we want our brand to be more respected, valued, get us out of commodity positioning’.

So when real commitment to market- and economy-moving innovation comes along, you have to applaud it.

In this economy, you need to scream your sincere appreciation for it, because it shows a commitment to be stronger tomorrow than you are today.

Example: Intel announcing this week a $7B investment over the next two years as they upgrade their facilities for 32nm technology used for the production of new faster, smaller, energy efficient chips.  (Note: Intel is a client).

Intel CEO Paul Otellini said it so well this week on NPR.   http://tiny.cc/4FLW7   “New technology is what pulls companies in technology out of recession,” he said.

And when asked what feedback he gave President Obama on the stimulus package, he did not hesitate to support plans to spend on much needed infrastructure investments, with the National Science Foundation, quality of classroom infrastructure, and tackling long-overdue problems that technology can solve, like electronic medical records.  “My God,” Otellini said.  “How long have we talked about that (Health IT)”?

How long indeed.

And just how long have we applauded brands for ‘innovation’ when there was little substance beyond an island in second life?

Intel has set a bar.  And the best thing about that bar is if you really listen to what they are saying, they want more companies to meet and beat that bar.  A rising tide raises all ships.

Lets not get amnesia about that bar on innovation when things get better, OK?  Who else do you see raising the bar?  I’d love to applaud them.

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.

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.

As part of my personal quest to learn more about green and renewable energy technology, I attended the recently founded Renewable Energies Business Network or REBN’s first networking reception in downtown Denver last week.

As one who considers himself fairly well read on the subject of green, I was amazed as to how much more I learned from talking to people in the industry.

The event drew 60 professionals, all from different segments of the local renewable energy market in the Denver Metro area. And from the robust attendance and buzz in the room, it would appear that Denver is a hotbed for this industry and that there’s a lot of excitement about the emerging clean-tech boom.

I chatted with folks of some of the usual suspects in clean tech – wind power and solar PV manufacturers and installers like Clipper Wind and Namaste Solar but also learned about a new emerging part of the industry much lower down on the hype curve - algae biofuels.

While I certainly left the event much more informed about important industry legislation like the proposed Lieberman Warner Climate Security Act, I also couldn’t help but feel some déjà vu, like perhaps this could be the dot com boom all over again.

Much like during the dot com boom, there are countless small local players offering similar services. Will they all survive, consolidate or is there enough of a market to sustain all of them? And while my train of thought started to move down the path of – have I not seen this before, really, how many pet e-commerce sites do you need, it was suddenly brought back to positivity by a conversation I had with an exec from Vibrant Solar.

While some in the media are already saying that clean-tech is a boom ready to bust, the industry guys say this boom is just getting started – and it will go on indefinitely.

The chief reason – it’s all about the money. The fact is, a very small percentage of Americans will go green because it feels right. We live in a capitalist society where money talks above all else. And every day it makes more and more fiscal sense to purchase solar panels by tapping into the growing list of government rebates, to get rid of your SUV and bike to work and for the utilities to build or lease wind farms.

So although I left the event perhaps with some of the clean-tech kool-aid aftertaste, once it wore off, I still felt myself still thinking that this is just the beginning…

So I’d like to hear what you think, is clean-tech just a boom and a fad or do you think it’s hear to stay?

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide