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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.

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.”

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!

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.

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.

The question is a cliché but timely in light of this cover story in The Atlantic, recent books such as “The Age of American Unreason” by Susan Jacoby and “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein (a former professor of mine*), and even animated films (WALL•E).

I don’t have an answer, just a hunch, and it’s prompted by two quotes. First this statement from Sergey Brin in the Atlantic: “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Then from this Los Angeles Times story: “Bauerlein also frets about the nature of the Internet itself, where people “seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort.”

It seems to me this isn’t an issue of stupidity or intelligence, but of foolishness and wisdom. Technology is increasingly designed to provide people with what they already want, what they already ‘hope to find’. This is indisputable. The wisdom to make productive use out of having “all the world’s information directly attached to your brain” is what’s increasingly lacking.

Or maybe it’s just not well articulated. Ceaseless innovation creates a kind of permanent impermanence. Millennials haven’t grown up with the internet; they’ve grown up with several – each replacing the last over shorter and shorter intervals. Wisdom comes with experience but how can anyone develop experience if one tech fad quickly replaces another?

At some point all companies (even Twitter) will need to articulate how their innovations enrich people’s lives beyond providing a new experience. Of course I would argue that that’s the role tech PR people are uniquely suited to play – helping bridge the gap between the technically feasible and the personally (or professionally) meaningful.

Now who would have believed publicists could serve the public good?

* He wouldn’t remember me, and it’s a good thing too, my academic career is best left forgotten by all involved.


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.


Jun 23

Predictions

There’s a great package of articles covering the future of the Internet, start-ups to watch and the business of social networking in the latest Technology Review. While there’s too much to summarize I do want to draw attention to these predictions (and hopes and fears) for the next 5-10 years of the Internet by the likes of Vint Cerf and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

My prediction (or hope) is that the Internet as a distinct entity becomes, more or less, extinct. To put it another way: in the next decade I hope to see an Internet so pervasive, so easily and seamlessly accessed from such a multitude of essentially invisible interfaces that it goes unnoticed by the average user. You can’t help but be conscious of your interactions and experiences with, or on, the Internet today. Ten years from now, who needs the hassle?

Any other predictions?


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