Wednesday, 26 November 2008
In the words of the judges: “An ambitious and committed team, with excellent media relations at the heart of its creative thinking. In just twelve months it has firmly placed itself on the key players’ radar. The judges were impressed at the use of solid journalistic skills to drive the media agenda. Very much one to watch.”
It’s a fitting celebration to mark our first year in business.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
We recrafted the story, starting with devising a media-friendly name for the product: “Tot-Nav.”
Next, we assembled a list of 10 tourist sites that scored poorly with children. For this, we asked our kids to quiz their social networks – MySpace, Windows Live, Bebo, Facebook and text – for ideas for the list, along with their reasons why. This was extremely effective. Some of the kids have a network of more than 500 friends on MySpace alone and when you consider the viral possibilities of asking friends a question that gives them the chance to vent their spleen… Well, suffice to say that we had plenty of choice. We looked for overlaps and we were able to assemble a credible top ten list very quickly.
Third, we targeted national print media, especially those papers that have a popular web presence. We offered photography and verbatim comments from kids on less-than-satisfactory “places of interest”.
The results? Page lead in the Daily Mail. Coverage in most tabloids and some broadsheets. Print circulation? More than 10 million. Online references? More than 40 on day one (and I don’t mean Uzbekistan gadget news). It’s this latter impact that is the most interesting and satisfying. It demonstrates that in the rush for online eyeballs it isn’t always the online distribution services that deliver. Good old fashioned media relations can bring a story to life, make it live in print and reach a quality online audience in substantial volumes.
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
“FAKEAWAY: A homemade version of a takeaway to save money, according to Sainsbury's. Likely to involve a jar of own-label curry paste and a pack of naan bread, washed down with supermarket lager.”
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
John Harris argues that consumers are seeking a more detailed understanding of weighty matters in a more complex and uncertain world.
I’m sure this is the case judging by my train carriage test this morning (1 Newsweek, 3 broadsheets, a couple of trade titles, a copy of Foreign Policy Review and a Private Eye), but I think it also has much to do with changes to the way in which we are exposed to, and engage with, the news.
Being in touch today means being ultra-in-touch and that doesn’t square with the consumption of long-lead titles with contents that are six-eight weeks behind the times.
There is so much going on that we are running fast to keep up with what is going on in the world. When the most recent earthquake hit China, many people received their first reports via Twitter, pinging in the corner of their screens, rather than news agencies or the beeb.
This two-way interconnectedness has also created an explosion in the exchange of opinion. The points of contact that most of us find ourselves managing on a minute-by-minute basis are wider and more varied than they have ever been. To keep the dialogue fresh with our contacts we need to keep up to date with what is happening.
We tell more people what we think about more things more often.
In turn this has weaned our consumption habits towards those media that enable us to maintain higher than traditional levels of awareness of what’s going on in the world around us. Who do we know today that is unlikely to have some view on the rise of the Hockey Mom, the role of sub-prime in current belt-tightening, or the aesthetic credentials of Damien Hirst? Even for that matter, a view on Victoria Beckham’s barnet. The old fashioned notion of the deadline in newsrooms is disappearing. Content changes on websites all the time. They’re palimpsests. News is now about being first to market, not just with breaking news, but with things that might have otherwise waited a bit.
The by-product is changes in other behaviours. Our shopping habits are also being moulded and honed by opinion like never before. Research we commissioned for a client last year confirmed that shoppers are far more likely (as much as six times) to be influenced by opinion that they are by advertising. How many of us see advertising as anything more than a reminder or a prompt anymore? Our buying decisions are made in partnership with others. Their experiences count. We are buying in opinionated packs.
This is an important consideration for brands and public relations professionals. I am convinced that the most effective public relations activity is now focused on the immediate - the national daily media – print, broadcast and online – alongside the more earnest opinion-rich titles that carry more weight of influence with increasingly discerning and opinionated readers. I am equally convinced that in a challenging climate, less effort should be expended on the grinding process of carving out brand mentions in the rather more sedate glossy long lead titles. PR spend, I’d contend, ought to be focused on the now.
As a client of PR agencies before jumping the fence a year ago to set up this business, I sat through dozens of presentations from agencies touting the strategic merits of a long-lead engagement programme with all of its time-consuming processes and vague promises of its impact on brand perceptions - supported by 150 page powerpoint presentations. I was for a time persuaded that there was merit in the application of this costly time and effort, but I now take the view that a war of attrition, designed to place a case study with the odd brand mention on page 46 of a monthly glossy is mostly and largely a waste of time, effort and budget.
Alongside the decline in the circulation of celebrity mags are many of the biggest brands on the newsstand – women’s magazines, homestyle titles, fashion glossies and others. Few magazines are managing to achieve growth in circulation.
If you have something meaningful to say, I suspect your audience will expect you to say it louder and more quickly.
Media consumption habits would appear to support this. We rarely take to the sofa to read a glossy. By the time they’re being read, Victoria Beckham could have an aubergine afro.
Today we channel hop, we listen to podcasts, we surf at work, at home and on the move, we read the free sheets, the dailies and listen to the radio. We social network, tweet, text. All of these processes are two-way, through letters pages, comment postings, votes and text or phone ins – something that long-leads can’t deliver in the same way.
I don’t discount the value of coverage in long leads entirely – after all, all coverage has its value, assuming that it is positive and that a target audience remains. What I do reject though is the idea that it has either parity to or greater value that a solid story in the national media. Nor do I think that PR professionals should spend months dining and gradually courting a long lead editor with a view to name check for their brand buried deep in a feature.
Some may claim that a tacit endorsement for a brand by a fashion editor can do wonders for sales. My argument is that the nationals are more current, their reporters more able to quickly chart the daily nuances in trend - and the leading fashion brands themselves are amongst the most active in cultivating coverage in the national media. Fashion is rarely about the leisurely.
Better for brand owners and managers to keep their businesses topical, keep creating and delivering a pipeline of interesting, challenging announcements and keep their sights focused on the parts of the media where the new opinionated are likely to sit up, take notice, internalise and pass on your news to others. That means running with the dailies.
The days when the coffee table was the repository for truly influential messages about brands are behind us. PR budgets are better spent on the here and now, which after all is where customers make most of their decisions.
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
We arranged a national hunt for tradesmen who look like famous footballers in the lead up to the game. The search generated full page coverage in the Daily Star, the Metro and half page in the Sport, all strong builders' titles. We also arranged a programm of radio interviews.
The match itself was played at the NEC in Birmingham just prior to the Masters final, raising money for Children in Need.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Highlights have included:
Putting technology start-up RoadTour on the map, securing national broadcast coverage on BBC One's One O'Clock News and extensive radio coverage, along with widespread newspaper and online coverage.
Launching Milk in Bag for Sainsbury's, securing a full page in the Times and extensive television coverage on BBC One, Sky News and Channel 4. This was all the more pleasing because the concept had been launched by a competitor two months earlier.
Running a football lookalike competition for Screwfix, securing full page coverage in the Metro, the Daily Star and coverage in other tabloids.
Identifying the emergence of "suspecs" - plain glasses wearers - for Vision Express, generating national coverage, including a full page article in the Scotsman and editorial mention, and extensive regional coverage.
Front page coverage in the Daily Telegraph for PC World's launch of RoboShop, along with substantial tabloid coverage.
Other highlights have included launching the Children's Charter for PC World, spotting the emergence of the home-cooked "fakeaway" for Sainsbury's, plotting the rise of the knork (a fork used like a hybrid knife and fork) for Sainsbury's and announcing the demise of the analogue TV at DSG international.
Here's to a successful year ahead!
Tuesday, 17 June 2008
The potential environmental benefits of a shift to bags are huge. If everyone bought milk in a bag as opposed to plastic bottles, it would save 100,000 tonnes of plastic a year, which is equivalent to the amount used to create all carrier bags in the UK.
It's a great idea - and we wish Sainsbury's all the best with it. Early indications are that customers love the new format.
Wednesday, 14 May 2008
The argument runs that you don’t want to give your opponents political capital or ammunition – but does it? Apologies are mostly bracketed with a solution – and create a context in which a listener is far more likely to take account of the context, the apologiser’s track record, etc - and form views about his or her integrity.
I remember apologising on national radio on behalf of a business I was working with, explaining the root cause, accepting responsibility and outlining what we were doing to put it right. What was set to be a five minute chargrilling turned in to a two minute confessional, concluding with the interviewer complimenting the organisation on its refreshing honesty and evident commitment to putting things right for its customers.
I spent time with a leading technology venture capitalist last week – and he was talking passionately about the attractiveness of entrepreneurs who have failed, especially those who have accepted their failures, learned from them and have moved on to try again. Even those that have failed serially, but have the capacity to accept it and the determination to try again are attractive prospects – perhaps even more so.
I regularly advise clients who find themselves attracting criticism to accept it, assuming of course that it is reasonable. It is disarming, heartening and honest. I fail to understand why politics is really that different. Why shy away from evident truths? A façade of implausible invincibility serves no purpose as far as I can see – and simply serves to erode credibility.
Tuesday, 13 May 2008
The encyclopaedia salesman was my 5th grade teacher, a lanky gnarled silver-topped Australian gent called Mr Deards, who routinely boasted that he was a mere 16 due to a birthday on February 29th. I expect that the small fortune that my dad paid for the books went some way to supporting Mr Deards’ imminent retirement at the ripe old age of 17.
I can still remember the detail of the books, the gold page trim, the smell of the ink, and the way that the inner pages remained chilled even on a forty degree summer’s day – the balming character of knowledge.
The books served their purpose decently, forming, shall we say, a detailed template for numerous history, science and geography essays during my remaining school years.
The reason I raise this is that I was reminded again of my dad’s foresight this week - though the catalyst this time was the unfolding and deeply depressing news of the tragic events in China.
The first word of the earthquake was from Twitter, the next from my news stalwart, the BBC. There was nothing terribly remarkable in the way in which the information was received, nor that the story evolved and grew as news filtered through. What did feel remarkable, though, was the speed with which the information changed and morphed - and the precision with which it did so - progressively for the worst it must be said, as the toll expressed as casualties and estimates of the missing mounted.
At one point during the day, I refreshed the home page on the BBC, I think twice in relatively short succession, and the total leapt appallingly each time. So too did the contextual news - eyewitness accounts, photographs of damaged buildings, individual tragedies - many no doubt delivered by citizen journalists.
Now I know that the encyclopaedia is, or rather was, a compendium of news from a distance, given time for scholars and editors to apply perspective and wider social an cultural interpretation, but I was suddenly struck by how antiquated the concept felt – even, for that matter, the shiny Encarta discs that I bought for my children as recently as five or six years ago.
In its place we have the factual termite mound that is Wikipedia (which, it must be said, handles its reference to its ancestors with detached, if somewhat barbed, decorum - “the opinions and world views of a particular generation can be observed in the encyclopedic writing of the time. For these reasons, old encyclopedias are a useful source of historical information, especially for a record of changes in science and technology.”- like a polite child passing judgement on its parent).
The reality today is that information will no longer accept stasis, news – even history - will never be pinned down. Any position at any time is merely a snapshot, prone to events and shifts in perception in moments, rather than weeks, months or years.
For communicators it is worth reflecting on this massive change - especially in the wake of blogging, social networking, twittering and more - and remembering that in cyberspace, the ink never dries and it constantly smudges. The days of Mr Deards and World Book belong to the fossil record.
Thursday, 8 May 2008
We intend to cover many perspectives, and I’m delighted that our first interviewee is Harry Wallop, the consumer affairs correspondent at the Daily Telegraph.
Harry has packed a lot into what is still a relatively short career, having been a business reporter at both the Telegraph and the Investors’ Chronicle. He recently won a prestigious industry award for his reporting and is rapidly building a reputation as one Britain’s leading consumer affairs journalists.
Turning the tables and doing the interviewing reveals to me how difficult the job is, so please forgive the decidedly low production values and somewhat stilted questioning.
All of those caveats aside, I hope you find it interesting and useful. Feedback welcomed!
Thursday, 17 April 2008
It is worth a browse around the rest of the site. The Hall of Shame ought to be standard reading for new recruits to media relations and the PR profession. Read and weep.
Be warned, friends, and bear in mind that they have yet to get their saw teeth into the whole blog/social/network/two point whatever phenomenon. It’s only a matter of time…..
Wednesday, 2 April 2008
The arguments, I’m sure, were very finely balanced on each side. Advisors will no doubt have concluded that neither felt like the absolutely right decision.
In cases like this, it is seductive to assume that fine balance in the arguments will equate to a similarly finely balanced reaction, with no scope for hyperbole, extremes of view, etc, leading in turn to a negligible, neutral reaction. At times like this, it is worth returning to the original “what if” statements and thinking again.
This story is an object lesson in the need to be even more cautious when the “right thing” is difficult to define.
Once the story had broken, Harriet Harman was right to put her flak jacket back on and enter the Today programme to defend her decision. It was an opportunity to make the simple case for doing so, and in my view she used analogies to good effect to dismantle the story – though by this stage, of course, it was damage limitation more than anything else.
Quite what will happen when she stands in today at PMQs is anyone’s guess, though she should be prepared for predictable double-edged remarks about the cut of her jacket from the benches opposite.
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Further evidence of the power of opinion online today. The influential French-based venture capitalists, Banexi Ventures Partners, have today announced an investment in Reevoo, the online publishers of genuine customer reviews.
What's significant is that Banexi successfully backed Kelkoo, the price comparison site, that subsequently sold to Yahoo for nearly 500m Euros a few years ago. In the announcement of the investment, out this morning, Banexi have said the following:
“Online promotional strategies need to engage with what the customer is
thinking and wanting. Other promotional mechanics, such as price comparison,
have been damaged by a very mixed quality of execution. The strength of
Reevoo is that the published customer opinions are always real and unvarnished,
which means that the model is untarnished. This creates a win/win/win ecosystem: shoppers want clarity about the products they’re thinking of buying, retailers are more credible for hosting real opinions and product manufacturers are looking for direct and meaningful feedback from consumers.”
To me, this is further evidence that the web is becoming an increasingly qualitative medium - it's opinions as opposed to quanitiative measures that have the most powerful impact on user behaviour. There's no better evidence than Reevoo's feedback from their retail partners, that include a host of UK household names. Retailers report that conversion rates for products are 80-100% higher when they sit adjacent to genuine customer reviews from Revoo.
It's almost as though customers have been put in charge of the stores - now there's an idea.
Thursday, 6 March 2008
So, the BBC is radically reshaping the way in which it manages news. News operations will now be organised on cross-platform lines, via an integrated newsroom. Correspondents will be tasked with delivering content across all BBC platforms, including television, radio and online. There are likely to be fewer stories covered, though the ones that are will be covered in greater depth and will reach a wider viewership / readership / listenership / surfership. For any organisation keen on generating publicity, the ability to build professional relationships with correspondents will become even more important.
Similarly, the Telegraph is no longer a newspaper; it is a multimedia organisation, delivering content through the paper, the website, Telegraph TV and podcasts. Correspondents are confronting the reality of an “enhanced” set of deadlines as the organisation’s audience look to it for guidance on news throughout the day. The correspondent is key, and the relationship with the correspondent is key.
Against the backdrop of this escalating pressure, how does a news organisation or a correspondent deal with the challenge of combing through the vast array of information that crosses his / her desk each day? The network becomes increasingly important, but the old ways of managing relationships – meetings, lunches, phone calls, events, press conferences – are all getting squeezed out (most journalists these days would easily pass the liver function test) as the correspondent is increasingly tied to his/her desk. The journalist’s network used to be the contact book, consulted with relative languor, but this is not as efficient as it was. Relationships, vital as they are to journalists and PRs, need to manifest themselves in a different way. More people will be chasing fewer journalists.
I think that social networking is part of the answer. Facebook isn’t a flash in the pan – it reflects a fundamental shift in the way that we connect. Many businesses and professionals are already using Facebook as means to engage in what I call ambient networking – displaying their activities, ideas and thought processes to colleagues and contacts in a way that keeps them, if not front of mind, then at the very least within easy access of valued contacts. It can keep the contact fresh without the ill-afforded luxury of other relationship management techniques.
An increasing number of my key contacts are “Facebook friends” and my page provides a glimpse into what I’m working on on behalf of my clients. I’m sure it works, because many of those contacts that are within my network are in touch with me on a more regular basis than those that aren’t. I don’t abuse the connections, but I’m there if they need to speak, I’ll intermittently nudge someone, and I use my status update occasionally to give people a sense of what I’m up to that day if I think it has wider interest. Of course all the other contact methods apply, but I think Facebook adds a helpful dimension in many, if not all, cases.
The same changes are applying elsewhere, as organisations – and seemingly life itself – demand more of us in less time. The social networking model is gaining momentum as a business management tool. Huddle (www.huddle.net), for example, enables users to create collaborative workspaces with friends, colleagues and business partners, with a few clicks of a mouse. Huddle has just launched a Facebook application that enables friends within the Facebook community to set up collaborative groups. The same conditions of access and efficiency apply.
The old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”, is probably in need of some refinement in every walk of life. For today’s networker, it’s more likely to read “It’s what you know, it’s who you know, and it’s how you stay close”.
Monday, 3 March 2008
Wading through it all, I spotted two stories this week that I found interesting:
The first, in today’s Telegraph, reports a TNS study that shows that British businesses are missing a trick by not investing enough time in taking advantage of the power (for good and for bad) of these networks.
It quotes Jim Nail of TNS as saying: "It is surprising to see that the UK is lagging so far behind other major nations in terms of recognising the business potential for social media. We are already seeing the damage done to brands who ignore negative publicity on networking sights(sic)."
The second, here, makes the case that it isn’t just fashions in the likes of shoes or music that spread through social networks - emotions, such as happiness, loneliness and altruism - or conditions such as anorexia or obesity - can potentially spread as well. This idea of "network contagion" is compellingly expressed.
If the author, Nicholas Christakis, is right, it opens up a vipers' nest of ethical issues - and a gold rush as a new wave of experts emerge to help businesses exploit social networking's commercial potential.
Time has moved on, his son is now walking, the contents of shelves have been moved higher, and the kid is no longer responding positively to perfectly reasonable requests.
I asked him whether he had yet used his “reverse psychology” day. He looked at me puzzled and I explained what most battle scarred parents know: that there is a one-day window when you can use reverse instructions to get your child to do something and give yourself a break from the drudgery of asking, asking, asking to no effect.
“DON’T eat that broccoli,” you insist. “Do NOT turn off the telly,” “I’m sorry but there’s NO WAY you are having a bath tonight.”
The response from the kid is predictably rebellious, thereby achieving the parent’s Machiavellian ends. Sadly, the tactic works for no more than 24 hours, as the kid wises up, generally at the point that he/she takes a mouthful of swede.
There are many different contexts in which the same principle of counter-intuition can work in a more enduring fashion, though the difference is that the deliverer and the recipient are co-conspirators. The world of PR and media relations, for example. What makes news, any journalist will tell us, is not “dog bites man”, it’s “man bites dog”.
When I was in-house as director of media relations for a large retailer, I developed a bit of a reputation for being the “grim reaper” in my sector, killing off a range of technologies, from the VCR, through the 35mm camera to the floppy disk and most recently the analogue television.
Many of my colleagues used to ask me why I was bothering to do something that was so patently anti-what the business was trying to do, ie, sell more kit.
The answer, of course, is that a press release headed “Company A sells flat screen tellies” is unlikely to make the Six O’Clock news or the front page or the leader column of the Guardian, the Times or the Sun.
On the other hand, an announcement that creates the conditions for nostalgic reflection (“RIP, XYZ”) has a much better chance of generating many pages of newsprint and hours of broadcast during which there are plentiful opportunities to wax lyrical about what you ARE selling.
Much of the art of successful PR, in my opinion, is about running in the opposite direction from the one that the audience expects. After all, whichever way you run, as long as you’re running in a straight line, you’ll end up in the same place. It’s just that one route is more interesting than the other.
Incidentally, I got a call from my friend a couple of days after I’d seen him. He said that he’d had a great Sunday with the reverse psychology trick up until lunchtime when his son, clearly thirsty, had unknowingly poured himself a neat glass of undiluted orange cordial. Spotting what he’d done, milliseconds before the glass arrived at his lips, my friend shouted across the kitchen, “Don’t drink that.”
I worked with Reevoo recently, the business that publishes genuine customer reviews on retailers’ websites, on a study that looked at the influence of opinion on buying behaviour online. The results surprised me. I knew that medium like the web was likely to elevate the importance of the opinions of others in the choices that we make, but what I didn’t expect was the massive impact that opinion has versus advertising. Opinions have five times the impact.
The YouGov study for Reevoo found that six out of ten people (60%) said online opinions written by consumers who have already bought a product would affect their choice of what to buy. In contrast, just 12% said they would be swayed by online advertising.
The study also found that shoppers are beginning to wake up to the possibility of fake reviews and won’t believe everything they read online. While eight out of ten (79%) are influenced by impartial ratings from shoppers who have definitely bought a product, only 14% would trust review programmes that are directly managed by retailers. More than a third (36%) of consumers are worried about the authenticity of retailer-managed customer review programmes.
This is, of course, an invaluable insight for all online retailers, but there are lessons in this for everyone in the communications trade, especially in the context of online communications. Informed, interested views matter much more than blatant plugs. Sure, banner ads, search engine optimisation, price comparison and all the other tools play their part, but when you strip at all away, it is views and opinions that are more likely to sway sentiment in favour of a business, its products and services.
You’ll find more on Reevoo here and you’ll find their logo and customer reviews peppered throughout the UK’s virtual high street. If the Consumers’ Association was to start all over, I suspect it would look a bit like Reevoo does today.
A selection of coverage generated by Twelve Thirty Eight for the launch of RoadTour, the World's first satellite navigation audio tour guide.
BBC One O'Clock News
BBC South East News
"Today's newspapers are tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper", says the CEO. We think not", say City analysts.
1. The evident disconnect between the value that analysts ascribe to press coverage and the value that many CEOs ascribe to it
2. The clear importance of quality press coverage in the front of the paper (ie, not just the business pages) to analysts in formulating their views
3. One senior analyst went so far as to say that good consumer PR could add a point or two to the PE ratio of a business
Many directors of communications that we speak to privately moan about their CEO / MD's reluctance to engage with the media. We hope that this research is a useful and persuasive tool in making the case for CEOs to think and behave differently.
I've taken the view that the worlds of media, PR and business are all changing at such a dramatic pace that it is time to tackle the way that businesses communicate with the media, and through it their customers, in a new and more effective way.
All our senior are either former in-house communicators or former national journalists, from broadcast and print. We're well connected and our reputation and effectiveness rest on our ability to place interesting, brand-enhancing stories under the gaze of millions of eyeballs.
So far, so good. Every one of our clients is the regular recipient of substantial levels of national press and broadcast coverage - and our reputation is growing, both as a source of great stories and as expert counsel to our clients.
A senior editor at the BBC recently described to me the emergence of "ambient news", supplied by fewer journalists, challenged to deliver their content across multiple media. An editor at the Daily Telegraph recently told me that he no longer sees the Telegraph as a newspaper - today it is a multimedia organisation.
The old methodologies that were used by businesses and PR advisors - what some would describe as old-fashioned warfare - lobbing a press release out of your trench and hoping for the best - no longer apply. If the media is changing, so too must the PR advisor. For us, relationships are everything, and judging by the reaction to date, we may be on to something....