Trusting the Telegraph

9 09 2009

TelegraphThere is a lot of debate about ‘old media’ versus new.  I prefer to think of conventional media as ‘trusted media’ rather than old media.  It doesn’t however help the case for the trusted media when they get their facts so spectacularly wrong that it questions the whole notion of journalistic enquiry.  The waters are made even more murky when the story is about new media technology.

A piece appeared on the Telegraph website yesterday that announced that “Debenhams has become the first retailer in Britain to use Twitter, the social networking website.”  What were they thinking? Did they entirely miss the Habitat scandal when they used trending topics (like Iraq elections) to try to sell lampshades? It  goes on, this “is a significant change for Twitter as its primary use until now has simply been as a source of gossip and blogging”.  What twaddle.

I am a proponent of PR but what comes next is pure puffery “Rather than finding out the latest celebrity tittle-tattle we’re going to use Twitter to provide customers with instant customer service, ” said Debenhams spokesman Ed Watson. “Our Megaday sale on Wednesday (September 9) is one of the busiest times, so using Twitter in this way will be the equivalent of having a dedicated shop assistant with you for the entire time you are in our store”.  This is baffling beyond belief and it shows a basic misunderstanding of how twitter works and what proportion of the public are actively using it.

It wouldn’t have been hard for the Telegraph to check its facts as there are quite a few retailers in the UK using twitter many of them very well; Asda, The Conran Shop, Dixons, Littlewoods, Tie Warehouse, Waterstones, need I go on?





Observer Closure Just The Start

4 08 2009

We should have seen the writing on the wall when the fish and chip shops started to close and more still when they abandoned yesterday’s paper in favour of plain wrapping.   Yesterday the Guardian Media Group (GMG) admitted that it might close The Observer in an attempt to reduce debts, which are approaching £90 million.

The review of the Guardian’s products is being by led by editor in chief Alan Rusbridger with a decison planned to be taken by the autumn.  It is difficult to see how the paper can continue when much of the editorial team has already been integrated with the Guardian and management have already intimated that it may go.

The existence of Trusts (GMG is owned by the Scott Trust) and proprietors that are prepared to shore up losses mean that a rationalisation of the UKs national newspapers is well overdue.  We have seen the process start with pressure on regional titles and with the big circulation city titles in the States.   I always believed that the Sunday People would be the first to go and that no-one would really notice.  Whilst we have seen short lived nationals like Today and The European close The Observer has been around since 1791 and its demise would be unprecedented.  It looks now like it may be the first major national newspaper to close.  It won’t be the last.





North West Media and Marketing

10 07 2009

‘How Do’ serves the media industry in the North West of England, offering news, opinion and resources for those working in all aspects of media in the region.  This week they asked me to be the guest editor for their weekly news round up the How Do Weekly Wrap.  Click here if you’d like a look.





Politics and the Social Web

26 05 2009

In the words of Dan Rather the US veteran TV news anchor “Candidates do hate, genuinely hate, audience participation, because they like to control the environment,” When faced with the idea that voters will ask them questions via a YouTube video, he says, and “they get the shivers.”

 The long-term effects of using generated content and other aspects of the social web on our political systems will be fascinating to observe.  There is no walk of life where messages have been more tightly controlled than in the political arena.  As brands and corporate bodies begin to learn that they are operating in world where the customer talks back, politicians will come to learn that they need to do far more than pay lip service to their promises of listening to and respecting the opinions of their electorate.   

 The level of scrutiny that they will face will continue to increase and there will be greater availability of physical records in terms of audio visual recordings of what they do and what they say.  These records will be searchable and will exist for very long time making politicians ever more accountable for their promises.





SEO and the Written Word

19 05 2009

In the rush to populate web copy with keywords the most important thing is sometimes forgotten.  The copy needs to well written, lively, interesting and relevant.  It is astonishing how often this is forgotten in the charge to upload text that will rank highly in Google.   

Engaging content can have a direct impact on search engine rankings and consequently on traffic.   Some websites sacrifice the need for good written content because their search engine optimisation advisors have influenced key words and their placement in the text to such an extent that the site no longer informs or entertains.

What this process fails to acknowledge is that the quality of the content is critical to receiving high rankings, because it will affect the number of pages viewed and the stickyness of the site.   Crafting words is a core skill for the majority of PR people.  We also need to consider how to deliver quality content in all of its other forms – still images, audio and video.  Whilst using the agency or in-house digital camera is useful for the old application for important work we will still tend to use a professional photographer.  The same should apply for audio and video content. 

Words still lie at the heart of all of this.  The right words will bring audiences but in the the wrong alignment they will drive them away, perhaps never to return.





Swine Flu Pandemic & Web Viral Panic

27 04 2009

Whether or not the current outbreak of swine flu translates into a world pandemic, we are already seeing information and and data spreading around the web at a staggering pace. 

The speed at which information travels brings opportunities and threats and we need to treat information we see on line with caution and respect.  The social web will deliver information on which we can rely and data which will deceive. 

Many news organisations around the world today are linking to a Google map showing almost live data on reported cases. Whilst this may be a very useful tool, what few of the news organisations report is that it appears to have been created by Henry Niman, a biomedical researcher with a history of using the internet to forecast doom. Niman has claimed global pandemics were under way several times before.

The spread of disinformation does not mean that there is no risk.   The truth is at this point we just don’t know the scale of the threat.   A much better source of information may come from Google.  ‘Google Flu trends’ which I wrote about in PR Media Blog  last November, uses search terms to predict how many people in a particular area are searching for relevant information about flu.  There is a high correlation between the searches and numbers of actual cases of flu and they can show incidence faster official channels like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   Google believes it can accurately estimate flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

The problem at the moment is that the data covers just the US and is only updated weekly.  If Google were able to update faster and use the technology to cover the whole planet we would have a much better picture of what is actually happening.





The Sex Pistols – God Save the Meme

6 04 2009

We think of memes or ‘viral’ as internet phenomena but whilst the internet is particularly suited to the spread of memes this kind of effect was observed long before the internet came into being. 

Fashion and music are areas where this is common and there are also crazes like the Rubik’s Cube the mechanical puzzle invented in 1974 but which exploded in popularity during a few months in early 1980 eventually selling over 300,000,000.

Whilst we can not promise to deliver memes as part of a PR campaign we should be able to recognise them and to facilitate their development.  Punk Rock which crash landed on youth culture in the seventies was memetic in its spread; starting as an underground idea but quickly crossing into the mainstream leaving a lasting stamp on fashion, music and design.  The punk explosion was also partly the result of Malcolm McLaren’s  innate understanding of the media and his ability to manage the message and provide press, radio and TV with strong themed stories surrounding the ‘Sex Pistols’.

The creation of memes is often beyond our control but when we recognise the opportunity PR people are well placed to propagate their spread.  (Adapted from the book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ available  from Amazon and other book sellers).





Media Should Say No To Max

24 03 2009

It is time for the British media to end their unholy alliance with the publicist Max Clifford.  Max plies his trade by doing deals and peddling untruths, he says so himself and I have witnessed it at first hand.  

If Max wants to be part of the story then his own integrity should come under press scrutiny.  During the sad demise of Jade Goody he was ever present but I have never seen him asked or answering the question as to whether his normally substantial fees have gone towards Jade’s estate or the future of her family.

The public relations industry has never been particularly celebrated for its ethics.  In fact we PR people are right up there with politicians and journalists in terms of how our honesty is often perceived.  To some extent we only have ourselves to blame and in part it is because we allow the line between Public Relations advisers and publicists to become blurred.  Public Relations is a strategic marketing discipline, whereas publicity is a rather more straightforward activity that more readily accepts compromise.  In some cases both publicists and journalists have gone along with the old maxim to never let the truth get in the way of a good story.  

At the heart of the social web is the concept of transparency. The access that it affords should mean we are at the beginning of the end for publicists like Clifford.





Guardian’s Rusbridger on Twitter

20 03 2009

Alan Rusbridger the Editor of the Guardian has started to twitter.  Along the the Telegraph’s William Lewis he is blazing the trail for major newspaper editors in using the microblogging social network*. It should be of little surprise that he is leading the way.  Many of  his colleagues at the paper are avid users and the Guardian itself is redefining media concepts.  The Guardian is no longer just a newspaper. It is a trusted media brand that delivers audio, video, web content as well as a daily, dead wood and ink edition.

When the Guardian re-launched itself in the smaller Berliner format in 2005,  Rusbridger said that the Guardian website was cannibalising newspaper readership and that this was a factor in the prior fall in the paper’s circulation.  He also said something else that provided a fascinating insight into the future of national daily newspapers.  The new format required the purchase of new printers at some considerable cost; £62 million, £12 million more than the paper had budgeted.  Rusbridger apparently said that he thought they would be the last printers that the paper bought.  

This blog is a companion to the book ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ available now from Amazon which examines the changing media landscape and its continuing evolution.  

 * Amended after Mick Fealty’s comment  correcting the original assertion.





Follow Friday Five #4

13 03 2009

Here are five blogs that you might want to start following this Friday. With four consecutive posts I can safely claim this as a regular feature.  The idea is borrowed from the twitter concept of  Follow Friday with a faint whiff of Ian Dale’s Daley Dozen but with a lower blog count. 

Here are the latest five that you might want to dip into or add to your RSS reader …on a Friday.  As ever it is a spectrum that covers PR, a bit of politics, some media and other stuff to.  Here’s the smorgasbord for this Friday…

1.  Alastair Campbell.org   Love him or loathe him, and for me it’s neither, you can not deny his iconic status.  He’s a journalist, he know’s a great deal and this blog is a great read.  He’s a spin doctor who has reinvented himself as a social web aficionado. Log on and have a look.

2. Stephen Newton’s diary of sorts… One of the first ever Manchester bloggers and the voice or reason.  Stephen tackles big subjects and always has a great angle.  I liked the Cadburys eyebrow ad…he didn’t. One of my top picks since way back when.

3. MAD or Media Arts and Disruption. (Disclosure: it’s from TBWA\ and I work for the group but I’m not involved with the blog) If you work in advertising or marketing, MAD is a must add to your RSS. Great work.

4. PR nowandthen The work of Katie Moffatt or Katie Rocket as she is known in some social media circles. She is self effacing but really gets it all, far more than most.  How many people do you know from the North of England that are currently at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin Texas?

5. Sarah Hartley – The Hartley 2.0 blog, not as essential as H2O  the personal blog of journalist Sarah Hartley who is the head digital honcho at the Manchester Evening News. She blogs for them and also on food hence her social media moniker ‘Foodie Sarah’.

Enjoy. It’s all good.  
 








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