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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.

Lexy Klain

by Lexy Klain
Category: Technology

Should anonymous commenting on blogs, forums, social networking sites and microblogging sites such as Twitter be allowed? Is it ethical?

I’m inclined to lean strongly towards the negative argument. l’d suggest that anonymous posting goes against the very fundamental principles behind social media and the importance of authenticity and transparency when operating in online communities. It’s therefore very interesting to see that there are new online tools and services popping up that encourage this very behaviour.

Two of the latest examples are as follows:

Tweet From Above
Tweet From Below
The company’s tagline is: “Anonymous Tweeting: For what has to be said, just not by you”

One of the services implies tweeting for ‘good’ and the other for ‘bad’.

I’ll be interested to see the sorts of tweets that get shared on both of these services. I’m particularly interested to know what sort of tweets make it to the ‘Tweet From Above’ service. If there’s something good to share – a fabulous CSR initiative by a company, something great that a colleague has helped you with, your love of Sunsilk shampoo – why not put your name to it and share it with the world?

I can understand the reason for not putting your name to posts that comes from ‘Tweet From Below’, but surely this is just another service that has the potential to flare up cyber-bullying!

Are there any valid reasons for commenting anonymously? The assumption would be that one would only do so if they have something to hide. Perhaps what they are posting is factually incorrect or perhaps they are simply gossip mongering. Whatever the case, I don’t agree with it.

I’d be keen to hear if anyone has any thoughts on when anonymous commenting would be permissible.

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!

Anna Hughes

by Anna Hughes
Category: Technology

I wrote a couple of months ago about the importance of transparency in contributing to Wikipedia. Today we learned that “Wikipedia will soon begin imposing a layer of editorial review on articles about people.” Within weeks, a trusted volunteer editor for Wikipedia must approve of any change to an entry about a living person before the entry can go live. While this wait-and-see approach to revisions can prevent the spread of misinformation from pranks and hoaxes, it also limits the freedom so long associated with the site. Research shows a growing resistance to new content; content from trusted editors is more likely to remain on the site, while updates from new contributors are more likely to be removed.

So what are the marketing implications of these flagged revisions? Misinformation about a person can not only harm that person, but also affect the companies and organizations that person is affiliated with. Remember when the rumor about Steve Jobs’ death adversely affected Apple’s stock price? Incorrect information on Wikipedia can and does certainly have the same effect. Those of us interested in reputation management should keep a close eye on the evolution of Wikipedia and its processes. Is this the beginning of the end for Wikipedia? Who or what will be the next subject of flagged revisions by experienced, trusted editors? Or is this a natural progression to making an already useful site even more dependable?


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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Anna Hughes

by Anna Hughes
Category: Technology

The most emailed article on the Web site of The New York Times this afternoon is about how technology “has completely altered the once predictable rituals at the start of the day.” Before grabbing a cup of coffee or doing any of the number of usual things in a morning routine, people now reach for their laptops, BlackBerries, and cell phones. This article is just another example of how more and more people not only get their information online, but are practically addicted to their Internet feed of information. And people get their news from a variety of online sources—not just from the Web sites of established media, but from blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Some may be nostalgic for a crisp morning paper and a hot cup of coffee, but it appears that many more are reaching for their laptops before they even get out of bed.

Lexy Klain

by Lexy Klain
Category: Technology

I want to explore the notion of people ‘trimming the fat’. I think we are increasingly seeing people explore different avenues and ways to improve their lives and ‘trimming the fat’ provides a good platform for people to do so. There’s no denying that times are tough – the current economic climate has impacted us all in one way or another… some stronger than others. Trimming the fat helps people declutter and space-save in order to regain a sense of control over their lives. This can be a cathartic experience.

People are trimming the fat with regards to ‘self’. There has never been more low-fat food options on the market, nor have we seen more weight-loss clinics and services popping up around the world (think Jenny Craig, Lite ‘n’ Easy etc…).

With reference to the ‘home’, people are decluttering their personal space to free up space in their lives. Spring clearning has become a more regular year-round activity rather than a seasonal one. Minimalist home design and decor is also becoming increasingly popular.

With regards to ‘work’, the latest technologies (gadgets, applications, hardware and software) are helping people trim the fat and stay connected to the things that matter (friends, family, colleagues, work).

Trimming out the fat in the workplace helps people work smarter and faster – ultimately encouraging more productive work practices.

Technologies such as smartphones, new ultra-thin notebooks and wireless Internet connectivity are making it easy for us to trim the fat at work – minimise downtime and remain connected.

I’m keen to explore this further. If anyone has any thoughts, please drop me a line.

Are people doing anything else to trim the fat in their lives?

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?

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