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I moved to the DC area from New York almost five years ago.  I’ve taken the Washington Metro almost daily since then. Like most who’ve been paying attention to the news I’ve been deeply saddened by the accident and the horrible loss of life on the metro earlier this week.  I’ve also been disappointed, though hardly surprised, by the actions of the metro system leading up to, and in the aftermath of the accident.

What do I mean by this?  Reports indicate that the train cars involved were overdue for service and that the NTSB had recommended - years ago - that the type of car involved in the accident be put out of serviceAfter the accident commuters expressed frustration at the Metro’s inability to update them with accurate information.  The communication issue isn’t reserved for the Metro system, according to this article in the Washington Post the mayor’s office is coming in for some criticism as well.

The problem at the heart of all this isn’t that Metro employees aren’t doing their jobs, it’s that the system doesn’t have the money, or the operating structure to conduct long term planning and replace aging equipment.

I’m convinced - and have been for some time - that the reason for this stems, in large part, from inadequate communications.

For the past five years I’ve ridden the metro because it’s safer, more cost effective and more efficient than my only other option: driving.  I’m what you might describe as a loyal customer. I have a stake in the system.

But every single day I see equipment out of order that goes unexplained or experience delays or random stops and starts that are given a perfunctory and wholly inadequate explanation. On more than one occasion, when the system does post a sign explaining maintenance, I’ve seen the end-date for the maintenance pushed back with no reason given for the obvious lack of progress. It goes without saying that there is no meaningful attempt at rider engagement.

This bothers me. Not because I’m left uniformed but because I want a metro system that doesn’t have budgetary or long term planning problems and because the system doesn’t appear to make any attempt to engage and activate me (and others) to help make that a reality.

In any endeavor, but especially those involving the general public, solutions stem from building a constituency, getting people invested in rectifying a problem, rallying them to take some sort of action.

Accomplishing this takes understanding your constituency; it involves giving them the information they need to be your best and most committed evangelists; it requires being agile and flexible enough to communicate with them on their own terms and through their preferred channels; it necessitates qualities of transparency and empathy, speed and clarity.

It takes a serious approach to listening and talking.  It takes a communicator.

The Washington Metro has established a relief fund for the victims but I’m not sure if it’s taking outside contributions.  It’s always a good idea to donate to your local Red Cross chapter, however.

Wanted to follow up on a post last week by colleague Ray Rahmati focused on best practices for video content. The following online video styles were developed in conjunction with my fellow colleagues Rohit Bhargava and Emily Goligoski in support of some planning and idea generation we’ve been working on for clients.

There are several video style categories to consider when creating compelling videos for any brand. When developing an online video strategy, in most cases, a good model would be one that embraces a blend different video styles over time that matches your brand — as it helps you reach your audience in new and fresh ways.

Below are several categories, descriptions and an example or two of each style:

  • Teasers: Provide a brief insider or behind the scenes looks at a technology or upcoming announcement or campaign. These are usually shot in an informal style as well as a good amount of first-time footage (i.e. screenshots of performance indicators, sneak-peaks at a new technology, etc.).  (Length: 1-3 mins.)  Example: SGN’s Promo Video for F.A.S.T.
  • Educational: Explore a specific topic in depth and help the viewer better understand the subject. Formats include chalk-talks with one presenter, roundtables with multiple experts discussing a topic or even humorous videos explaining how your tech fits into an trend. (Length: 1 – 3 mins.)  Examples:  EMC Cloudfellas, Intel’s Wireless Power, NetApp Play by Play.
  • Testimonial: Take the viewer on a first or second-hand account of a customer or set of customer experiences with your brand or technology. These can be presented in a variety of formats such as slideshows, roundtables and on-site customer videos to provide an overview of the solution and value delivered to the customer.  (Length: no longer than 5 mins.) Example: iPhone in Enterprise
  • Visionary: Provide a thought leadership perspective from a compelling point of view.  This can be tied to a specific technology or a discussion of a broad industry trend – such as the economy, public policy, international law, storage economics, or a topic that is relevant to your brand.  (Length: 2-4 mins.)  Example: Schwartz Video Blog
  • Episodic: Break a running story into multiple videos that can be viewed sequentially to tell the story over a period of time. Can be used in a promotional way, or to create engagement over a longer duration of time.  (Length per episode: 1-5 mins.)  Example: Intel Mobile Etiquette
  • Newsbreakers: Support a specific announcement, or videos actually aimed at breaking news (i.e. releasing a video of a new technology or approach without a supporting press release). (Length: 1-3 mins for pomo or + 60 mins for taped sessions from a launch event/conference.) Examples: Microsoft bing, Google Wave.
  • Entertainment: Provide a humorous perspective on a subject. Usually termed “viral videos” these take the form of edgy, funny videos covering a variety of relevant topics. (Length: 1-3 mins.) Example: Intel’s 45nm Secret Unveiled
  • Stunt: Provide entertainment and information on a subject and usually leverage competitive FUD. (Length: 1-3 mins) Example: NetApp Battles the Competition, Mr. T Puts the “T” in IT

Needless to say, it is important to evaluate the views, comments and feedback to drive conversation and improve the quality and relevancy of videos moving forward.

Please feel free to weigh in on other video styles or if you have interesting examples of any of the above!  I’m always looking out for new uses and good examples of successful content.

I’ll share more on posting best pactices, tagging, etc. soon.

Dramatic events throw a nation into turmoil. A disaffected constituency rises up and, spurred on by communications technology, quickly organizes. External forces have the power to ensure that this enabling communications technology continues running – as well as the power to shut it down at will.

This is one way of describing the situation Twitter and NTT America found themselves in earlier this week when Iranian protestors – and their supporters in the US and elsewhere – demanded the company reschedule planned maintenance that would shut down the service at a critical time.

It is also a description of the options available to the US government in April 1994 as it weighed whether or not to intervene in what we now refer to as the Rwandan genocide.

I don’t raise this point to draw comparisons between Iranian protesters and Hutu militias. For what it’s worth I’m on record as advocating that Twitter reschedule its maintenance.

On the contrary I draw this comparison to illustrate a point. The US did not jam radio broadcasts in Rwanda in 1994 out of concerns of violating international law and involving itself in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

When Twitter and NTT America rearranged their plans they took sides in the internal affairs of Iran.

However much I may agree with the move, this raises ethical questions. Setting aside generally-accepted lobbying practices, should companies involve themselves in the politics of a sovereign nation? (And as you think about the question, remember how some US companies involved themselves in Latin American politics during the Cold War).

The questions become murkier when you consider the news that Twitter’s planned downtime was rescheduled, at least in part, as a result of a request by the US State Department. Whatever you views on this issue, requests made by the US government to technology companies have been the subject of recent controversy (to put it mildly). Should companies cooperate with the US government when cooperation forces them to – by definition – side with the political aims of a group of people in another country?

Let’s switch gears for a minute and think about Facebook. The recent murder of a security guard at the Holocaust museum in Washington DC prompted Michael Arrington to write, for a second time, about a Facebook policy that permits hate groups to be active on the site. Facebook employees responded to Arrington’s post by defending the policy on free speech grounds.

Whatever my personal feelings, I can see – and I hope most others can as well – that both sides have approached this issue thoughtfully and with the goal of taking what they perceive to be the right, moral course of action. And yet they are, of course, in opposition.

With our lives increasingly inextricable from the social Web; powered-by and transpiring within the cloud; with nations declaring that internet access is a civil right; as ‘vital as water and gas’; companies such as Twitter, Facebook and NTT America are going to face more and more of these impossible ethical quandaries – no-win scenarios that force them to choose between choices that are both right and wrong.

Dealing with these scenarios is fraught with risk and communicating the inevitably complex reasoning and good intentions that go into any ethical decision is incredibly difficult.

It is also – as should be clear in these recent cases, unavoidable.

What ethical responsibilities do these and other companies – and the cloud itself – have to end users? We need to start thinking through the scenarios and coming up with some answers.

Anna Hughes

by Anna Hughes
Category: Technology

I recently spoke with a colleague at a well regarded lobbying firm who had been tasked with carrying out some minor PR tasks while her firm waited to engage their next PR agency. Imagine my surprise when, in a passing comment, my colleague mentioned she had been asked to update her client’s Wikipedia page with a number of materials.

As any PR pro will tell you, Wikiscanner first debuted back in 2007, making it much easier to determine the source of an entry or edit in Wikipedia. Wikiscanner exposed that many revisions to Wikipedia entries came from corporate sources, and suddenly, non-objective entries were subject to scorn from the general populace and even deletion by Wikipedia. All in all, Wikiscanner caused more than a few PR disasters as well as general embarrassment among those who were caught red handed. The majority of PR firms immediately changed their “Wikipedia strategies” to no longer edit client pages or pages related to clients. Surely no one was still doing this?

While tempting, we must never assume that non PR professionals—whether they are clients, professional colleagues, or friends—have the same PR expertise we do. What may be common knowledge to those of us in the PR industry can be elusive to others with their own separate area of expertise. Lesson learned? A thorough evaluation of PR activities is a must, lest your client “go rogue” and end up unintentionally creating a PR fiasco. Are your clients attempting to do more in house as they attempt to trim budgets? Make sure the lines of communication are open so you can provide the appropriate counsel.

Wikipedia remains as relevant as ever; Wikipedia entries are often the first result listed in a Google search, and now Wikipedia articles have been integrated into Google News results. For many, Wikipedia remains the first resource to turn to when researching a topic. And Wikipedia contributors are closely monitored; Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee recently blocked editing from sites owned by the Church of Scientology, after hundreds of articles relating to Scientology became embroiled in edit wars with critics.

Fortunately, my colleague spoke with me before editing Wikipedia entries from her lobbying firm’s IP address. And she’ll be sure to run other communications tactics by her next PR firm (or by her helpful colleagues at Ogilvy!) before moving forward. I’m looking forward to hearing from you about this issue—do you consider Wikipedia when crafting a communications strategy?

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A year ago this month, Intel (an Ogilvy PR client) launched the Intel Insiders, a social media advisory board of 10 highly engaged, influential thought leaders in technology and new media.

This diverse group of prolific content creators and tech-setters includes:
-Brian Solis of Bub.blicio.us and PR 2.0
-Cathy Brooks of Other Than That
-Sarah Austin of Pop17
-Justine Ezarik, iJustine
-JD Lasica, author of Darknet and publisher of SocialMedia.biz
-Adriana Gascoigne of Girls in Tech
-Irina Slutsky of Geek Entertainment TV
-Frank Gruber of Somewhat Frank
-Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher
-Christian Perry of SF Beta and Snap Summit

Since the launch of the program, we’ve collaborated with the Insiders on a number of fun projects that’s helped Intel extend their reach and build key relationships with the online tech community. Highlights from the first year of our program have included a range of activities from hosting the Intel CES Kick-off Blogger Party, inside looks and visits to Intel’s FAB in Portland, Oregon and attendance at multiple industry and Intel events such as Computex, SxSW, ISEF and Intel Developer Forum (IDF). continue reading

Just a quick post letting everyone know you can also follow TechPRNibbles via Twitter and FriendFeed.

Thanks for joining the conversation and stay tuned for more updates, ideas and content.

Last week I posted on the explosion of online video and how video can be incorporated into your traditional PR campaigns.  In the post, I listed a number of “tips” for shooting your first video interview, and preparing company spokespersons and subject matter experts for what oftentimes, is their first foray into video.  As a natural extension to that post, I thought I would check in with Ogilvy PR’s Moving Media Group–broadcast arm of our Creative Studio that concepts and creates TV Commercials, Radio, PSAs, B-roll, and Industrial products for both broadcast and non-broadcast purposes–to see if they had any additional guidelines for creating video. Here’s what I found:

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The past few weeks witnessed the introduction of two new competitors to Google: Bing and WolframAlpha.  Both services have their strengths (and weaknesses); however they both experienced rocky roll-outs.  Here are three lessons public relations professionals should learn from the respective launches.

1.      If you’re going to launch, be open for business.  The world was introduced to Bing May 28th. But not really. Visitors to the site were greeted first by a blank screen, then with a note that Bing would be “coming soon.” The launch release indicated it would be available for actual searches six days later on June 3rd.  The end result? A tremendous loss of traffic that wasted massive amounts of  publicity.

2.      If you’re going to tease, make sure there’s a payoff.  The launch of WolframAlpha was fed by months of speculation and anticipation (a leaked screen shot, a video demo with no shots of the service, etc).  When it launched, however, the service did not live up to, probably unrealistic, expectations. The result? By one measure interest in WolframAlpha has cooled significantly.

3.      Don’t be cute, but if you insist on being cute, be consistent.  You may think WolframAlpha and Bing are search engines but they’re not. How do we know? They told us. WolframAlpha is a ‘computational knowledge engine’ while Bing is ‘decision engine.’ What’s wrong with this? First, the phrase ‘computational knowledge engine’ needs its own ‘computational knowledge engine’ to be understood.  Second, while ‘decision engine’ is easier to understand, Microsoft is inconsistent in its messaging.  Just check out the launch release wherein Bing is described as both a ‘decision engine’ and a ‘new approach to search.’ If you want to play down comparisons to your chief competitor, describe yourself as something different all the time. If the comparisons are unavoidable, don’t try to avoid them.

I said there were three lessons, but here’s one more thing we should all remember.  When you’re naming you’re new product, make sure you think through all the ways your new name can be manipulated.

With tech publications and online media warming to the idea of vendor generated content, the opportunity to garner coverage and increase the visibility of your brand, products and services through channels such as videos, infographics, slideshows and podcasts are on the rise. Although many of these outlets will accept content in the form of bylined articles, guest columns, and white papers, they require significant time commitments from our clients, which can oftentimes be a challenge.  Video is quick, easy and requires a relatively low investment in time and resources, all while providing yet another medium for showcasing thought leadership.

Video has seen enormous growth online over the past few years, which can be attributed to increased broadband adoption and the proliferation of video sharing sites such as YouTube, Blip.TV and Yahoo! Video. With these sites attracting hundreds of millions of eyeballs per month, and with tech media and bloggers scrambling for content, the opportunity to broadcast your company’s message can seem just about endless.

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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide