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Jaffa Cakes and the New PR

4 01 2011

As I type Jaffa Cakes is a trending topic in the UK on Twitter. Why? Well mainly because as ‘cakes’ rather than enhanced biscuits they are exempt from the UK 20% VAT rate that comes into force today.

The manufacturer McVities classed its Jaffa Cakes as cakes, but in 1991 this was challenged by UK Customs and Excise and the case ended up in court.  McVities argued that Jaffa Cakes were miniature cakes showing that biscuits would normally be expected to go soft when stale, whereas cakes would be expected to go hard, something that an out of date Jaffa is inclined to do.   The court ruled that the Jaffa Cake is a cake and therefore VAT free.

What has that got to do with PR (new or old) I hear you cry.  Well PR has always used news hooks and the VAT hike to 20% is a on of today’s headlines.  The social web picks up on quirky stories particularly where there is a contentious debate at the core e.g. Jaffa; cake or biscuit?  There is no doubt that if a product trends on twitter it will shift a few packs from the shelves, particularly if there is a price advantage central to the news story.

So have McVities done anything to fuel the social media debate?  Actually although there is a well followed Facebook page, the biscuit, sorry cake, manufacturer has been surprisingly quiet on the subject.   I think they’ve missed a trick.  There was plenty that they could have done; they could published details of their 1991 legal arguments on Facebook,  engaged in debate using the (apparently dormant) twitter account or simply issued a press release that would have fueled the debate both off and on-line.

The PR industry has always known how to make the most of a news story.  The new PR means that you need to be ready to do that not just through conventional media but through social channels.  That you way you can have your cake…

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Social Strategy First Crisis Second

30 11 2010

It’s incredible how many of the major organisation with the best social media strategies got there in the wake of a crisis.  The most obvious example is Dell.  First there was Dell Hell and then there was IdeaStorm and a comprehensive on line communications and commercial strategy.  My anecdotal experience entirely supports the idea that even now most major organisations don’t formulate their social media communications strategy until they have experience a royal kick in the digital arse.

It really doesn’t have to be that way.  In the words of Henry George Bohn “wise men learn by other men’s mistakes, fools by their own”.   The Chartered Institute of Public Relations is hosting ‘Reputations in Flames’,  in London next Monday 6th December. The one day conference will explore the risks that businesses and organisations are exposed to via social networks.  I have the honour of chairing the event and there are some must see speakers.  Euan Semple will cover the fundamental changes that have occurred, Dominic Burch, Head of Corporate Communications at Asda will explain why social media monitoring is a necessity, not a ‘nice to have’.

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder and CEO, Our Social Times will look at the tools that are available and Guy Esnouf, Head of Public Relations, Public Affairs and Community Relations at  E.ON UK will highlight how social media can be effectively used to communicate with stakeholders during a crisis.

The afternoon session features Marshall Manson of Edelman and Helen Nowicka, Managing Director of Shiny Red.   It is a real opportunity to learn from people who know.  Better to be prepared than to have to learn on the job.  Oh, and the slogan on the t-shirt?  It says “the crisis and me are friends on Facebook”





Should Advertising Regulate in Social Media?

1 09 2010

Today the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) announced that it extend its remit to cover “marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under their control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter”.  The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA and has today published a document detailing the new remit and sanctions.

I have some serious and personal concerns about the document.  In justifying the extension of its remit ASA refers to 3,500 complaints in 2008 and 2009 about the content of organisation’s websites.  How does this relate to social networks or social media?  Throughout the document there is constant reference to “other marketing communication” (sixteen times on 14 pages) with only a very loose definition of what constitutes “other marketing communication” suggesting that it is concerned principally with the primary intention “to sell something”.  Marketing communications is so much broader than that.

The plan is to carry out a review of guidelines in 2013, two years after the implementation of the extended remit.  This shows a fundamental misunderstanding and disregard for the speed of change on-line; for example in two years Twitter went from zero to 10 million tweets per day.  Spotify, which is fundamentally changing the music business, is less than two years old.

There is also a contradiction in terms of definition.  The guidelines exclude “press releases and other public relations material” and yet the definition of “other marketing communications” includes items that could be considered to be public relations material, for example the promotion of unsolicited (or solicited) consumer endorsement.

I would endorse all of the objectives of the CAP code with regard to the prohibition of misleading advertising, the protection of children and social responsibility.  The intentions here are good there is no doubt of that.  I just can’t help feeling that in regulating the social media space, bodies that concern themselves with advertising and have advertising in their title feel more than a little out-of-place.





Social Web Traps Be Careful Out There

22 03 2010

The social web has started to feel like a bloody dangerous place.  In the last few days there have been not one but two major PR disasters befalling household names.  The first was Nestle’s appallingly handled response to the Greenpeace Palm Oil campaign, and today the CashGordon debacle has left both Labour and the Tories with pre-election bruising.

The Nestle debacle was covered in detail by my colleague Jon Clements on PR Media Blog but to summarise; a naive confrontation on the company’s Facebook Fan Page led to a full-scale debate on-line about deforestation in Indonesia and whether the brand’s use of palm oil was endangering the Orang Utan.  It was a text-book case of  ill preparedness and it seemed to outsiders as if the office junior in the marketing department had been entrusted with the global brand image.  Whoever was looking after the Facebook page was unable to deal appropriately with criticism of the company and rather than defuse the situation the flames were fanned.   For many people it was the first time they had linked KitKats with deforestation and it remains to be seen how many people will take a break from Nestle products.

Today’s pratfall was the collapse of the Tory attack site Cash Gordon.  The site allowed web users to post unmoderated tweets with the #cashgordon hashtag.   Having the words “Cameron is a paedophile” on a Conservative web site was just one of the unimagined consequences. Things got worse when a security flaw allowed the site to be hacked redirecting visitors in turn to the Labour website, a rickroll and a variety of shock sites.   Twitter users were circulating the code online required for the hack before Tory HQ regained control and directed users back to the main party site.

Solutions are to be found in a mixture of digital know how good old-fashioned PR practise; plan and test assiduously in advance, rehearse Q&As, monitor and respond, escalate responsibility during a crisis and just becasue they are digital natives don’t let inexperienced people manage the fall out.





The Death of Demographics

25 01 2010

3d pie chartThe advent of social media marketing and PR marks the beginning of the end for the use of demographics in targeting consumers.

The PR agency that I work for was recently appointed to conduct an on-line PR campaign for a major brand in the DIY sector.  The target online media list was rigorously profiled and we identified people who might readily be interested in the product.  We were then asked to check whether the demographics of the target blogs, forums and sites was in line with the target market for the product.  Demographic data is now available from sites like Alexa.com. So we did it.

I wonder however what the value of this really is.  Demographics are about getting closer to your target audience but it is an imprecise science.  The holy grail in marketing is the aquisition of ethnographic data.  Ethnographics are holistic covering the places where people live, what they do for a living, what they eat and drink, their customs, language and culture.  In social networks we can build an accurate ethnographically detailed picture of our target audience based on what they do and what interests and excites them.  Whatever part of the social spectrum they might come from the fact is that they have shown an interest in a relevant area.  That’s an insight more powerful than any generalisation based on class, sex, race or place.





Trick or Tweet

28 10 2009

One of the most powerful, authoritative and influential corporate voices in the world of UGC and the social web is that of Scott Monty, head of social media at Ford Motor Company, Detroit.  He has over 30 thousand followers on twitter and is a genuine trail blazer in the use of social media marketing and PR techniques.

Today he used this voice to give advice on how to carve a Halloween pumpkin. To be fair it is not the only thing that Scott has talked about on twitter today.   He has referenced the fact that Ford management at all levels have taken compensation cuts.  He alludes to plans for ‘mind blowing’ in-car technology and promotes a post which describes Ford vehicles as ‘world class’.

What is interesting about the way that Scott uses social networks is that he blends the personal with the corporate.  It is a clear example of a trend towards greater informality and using human faces, acting in a personal way as part of the corporate brand and culture.  Though to be fair if I wanted to carve a pumpkin (and I don’t) there might be better places to go for advice.  I mean…ice cream scoops?





Brandjacking & Social Web Imposters

20 05 2009

When websites first became available companies had to do with the issue of cyber squatting, where individuals with no connection to an organisation nevertheless registered obvious names for corporate websites and then sold them back often at exorbitant prices.  This practice was eventually stamped out through legal channels and in some countries with the introduction of new laws.

More recently companies have had to deal with ‘brandjacking’ where an individual or individuals hijack a company’s identity and pose as representatives of that organisation within social media environments.   The very nature of these environments allows ordinary individuals the same access or even better access than corporate bodies.

One example of this was the arrival of ExxonMobilCorp on Twitter last year.  For a few days this was heralded as an attempt by the oil giant to engage with customers at a very personal level and to invite public debate about their business practices.  The author of the post was called Janet and her profile carried the Exxon logo and a background of wall of corporate images.

The twitter biography contained the company slogan “taking on the world’s toughest energy challenges”.   Although the feeds were not malicious they were not from Exxon;  Alan Jeffers, spokesman for Exxon Mobil said that “Janet” wasn’t of Exxon’s public relations machinery and they no idea who she was  “She is not an authorized person to speak on behalf of the company. There are several inaccuracies.  We take great care in having authorized people speak on behalf of the company. We want to make sure anyone who is speaking for the company is doing so accurately.”

In case you were wondering about the image it is part of an internet craze (or meme) for reinventing logos in a Logo 2.0 style.  Even the core brand identity is no longer safe from the brandjacker.

 

 








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