January 2010


Here’s a PR joke: What’s worse than calling a journalist to check they received a press release? Calling a journalist and offering a marketing director as a spokesperson.

For some reason, the idea that a spokesperson has under their remit, control over messaging and how it’s delivered elicits a Pavlovian response from journalists, almost always in the negative. Marketing is a dirty word – unless we’re talking about the marketing press, obviously.

But should this PR axiom remain unchallenged? Is it time to re-appreciate the value that a marketing spokesperson can bring to the table? In a world that’s turned from spin and hyperbole to influence and trust, are the marketing managers and directors the new gatekeepers to not only company insight and vision but also wider industry expertise and experience?

I’d argue yes. It’s the marketing teams – and their subdivisions of PR, corporate comms etc. – that have been tasked with finding new ways to get messages across in an age where traditional communications channels are shrinking and new channels are coming on stream on almost a daily basis. To be successful in this environment, the marketing leads have to have not only a thorough understanding of growth strategies, product roadmaps and overall business plans but crucially how these elements fit into the bigger industry picture, how they size up against the competition, challenges to adoption and opportunities for success.

CEOs apart, marketing leads perhaps more than any other role in an company, are the gatekeepers to the bigger picture and we should be listening to them a lot more.

Take Twitter as an example. The most erudite and insightful Tweets I receive are, by and large, from people with a marketing remit. Yes, I’m biased because I work in the industry, but I follow CEOs, product managers, sales directors and yet the more informative and engagement posts come from marketeers.

You can argue that it’s part of their job. True, but if that’s the case the preclusion from being media spokespeople makes no sense. Perhaps they’ve got too much time on their hands? Maybe, but if my CMO was growing a network of business contacts using Twitter (or blogging or Linked.In or anything else for that matter) then I’d give full license to procrastinate providing I saw the benefits reflected in sales or changes in behaviour among my target customer base.

I don’t actually know the real reason why snobbery exists around using marketing professionals as spokespeople, but exist it does and I say it’s time for a change.

Hopefully, we’ll see something of a shift when we release the findings of our own Twitter Tech Influencer survey https://thenakedpheasant.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/the-importance-of-being-influential/at the end of Jan. We’re on a mission to find the top technology influencers telling their stories in 140 characters or less and I’ll lay a shade of odds that marketing and PR people are high up in the list, perhaps even displacing some journalists and CEOs/CTOs. You can suggest Tweeters for inclusion by mailing their Twitter name to techinfluencers@edelman.com.

Imagine that eh? PRs being more influential than the media they’re supposed to serve! I can see the heated blog posts already.

But seriously, in an age where influencer can be exerted from anyhere, and trust built between people with no previous connections or even commonalities, the notion that insight and opinion can only come from certain tranches of a company or organisation is frankly laughable.

A little like MC Hammer’s trousers.

@PaulWooding

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The Global Web Index have produced and excellent infographic that I am shamelessly copying and pasting into this post to share.

The key highlights that they found were:

• The social web is mass market: Hundreds of millions of web users are creating and sharing content every month
• The massive impact of China: The vast Internet population coupled with hugely socially active set of web users, makes for a massive volume of content creators. However due to the inward looking nature of Chinas internet economy combined with the language mean that this volume of content does not impact the broader Internet
• Low engagement in Japan: We also associate Japan with technology innovation, and actual while you might not think it, the low engagement is indicative of progress. Why? Our map shows PC activity and we know from this research that a huge number of Japanese users are bypassing PC altogether and using mobile devices to access social platforms and create and share content. Just over 34% of social network users only accessed through mobile in the month of the research, this is compared to 3% in the UK, a staggering indication of where the future is heading
• The low level of microblog engagement: Despite the Twitter hype, microblogging is still not a mass social activity and nowhere near the size and scale of blogging

By @jonnybentwood. Originally posted on Technobabble 2.0

For those of you who don’t know already, I despise Peaches Geldof. She is surely the most vacuous, vapid ego-belch to trundle her way through the brown-eye of the tabloids. She has not one redeeming characteristic. My slightly irrational hatred of her was given a boost yesterday, when I saw that popbitch had awarded her the crown for Worst Quote of ’09…

I have respect for broadsheet journalists because, they haven’t succumbed to degrading themselves, to writing pidgin English with all these terrible colloquialisms, the phrasing of which is just, like, embarrassing.

Magnificent. It goes to show that her much-flamed Nylon column and her interminable chuntering with Fern Cotton were not one off’s – she really is a catastrophic dullard.

So, in keeping with all the other outlets currently squeezing out their ‘Worsts…’ lists, I thought it might be worth seeing what/who stood out for everyone in 2009. It’s not wholly tech related (indeed, some of the best are far more mainstream/consumer) but a celebration of all things dunder-headed…(plenty from Twitter, it’s a hotbed of shitheadedness)

1. Jan Moir’s Daily Mail Hate article on the sad and untimely death of Stephen Gately:
Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered.
And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.

Charlie Brooker made a good summary in the Guardian, noting… I’m still struggling to absorb the sheer scope of its hateful idiocy. It’s like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.

2. ABC News Reporter Terry Moran (in rapidly deleted Tweet)
Pres Obama just called Kanye West a “jackass” for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential

3. a lass called “@theconner” was thrilled. She’s just landed a job offer from Cisco, but didn’t know if she wanted to take it. Instead of talking it over with friends and family, she broadcasted the following message:

“Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.”

Moments later…

@theconnor Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the Web.
By @timmylevad

Tim Levad is a 10 year veteran of Cisco’s client services division…

4. The Telegraph – Not so much a “Worst Quote” per se, but certainly a “Unwanted Quote Generator”.

Telegraph.co.uk took the ‘brave’ decision to publish a live Twitterfall stream of #budget tags, unfortunately leaving itself open to sour-minded sabotage. treats included…

@worldsmycountry: Breaking news: Barclay Brothers to pick up your tax bill in unprecedented act of philanthropy. #Budget

@cripesonfriday: Dear Telegraph, I was shocked and appalled to read the words fuck & cunt on your website today. All I wanted to do was read about the #budget

@natmandu: Explosion at a Huddersfield pie factory. 3.141592654 dead. #budget

@chickyog: Well that’s the Telegraph’s #budget twitterfeed boned. What shall we destroy next?

5. George Dubbya, natch…
I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them

6. X Factor, Simon Cowellisms
Don’t get me wrong. I still love the X factor machine, but the thought that it might not return in 2010 is, in my mind, a good thing. Perhaps only then will Simon Cowell will have the time to realise: that 100 per cent is as high as you can go, that understandubly is not a word and that people who say somethink, rather than something, sound insanely ridiculous.

7. Silvio Berlusconi
Commenting on earthquake survivors in emergency camps
“They have medicaments. They have hot food. They have shelter for the night. Of course their current lodgings are a bit temporary. But they should see it like a weekend of camping.”

8. Silvio Berlusconi

“I bring you greetings from a person who is called…a person who is sun-tanned…Barack Obama,”
the smiling 72-year-old politician told a crowd of cheering supporters in Milan on Sunday.

“You wouldn’t believe it, but they go sunbathing at the beach together – his wife is also sun-tanned.”

We need more. Lots more. Fling them *down there*

@WillO’Connor

Another year and yet another blog post by a disgruntled journalist naming and shaming PROs. This time it’s UK freelancer Kevin Braddock who’s clearly had enough of what he sees as irrelevant PR pitches.

Anyone in PR with half a brain knows that the basic tenet of Kevin’s argument is sound, that PR still relies too much on 1-to-many bulk distribution of stories. Why? Because in some agencies, this is what PR is all about and in other agencies  it’s an accepted practice as a failsafe in case the call rounds of targeted media don’t get the necessary responses.

Equally, anyone with half a brain also knows that it’s not that hard to delete an email if it’s not relevant. Neither is it that unreasonable to expect a PR to email a speculative pitch on, say, consumer technology, if a journalist has written for a publication that does cover that area.

I use this example because Kevin lists WIRED UK as a mag he’s written for and also calls out “consumer technology” in his list of irrelevant subject matters.

On that note, you could argue (and some have @BabsGold) that his selection criteria for the list is ambiguous.

Regardless, you can debate the value of these lists in terms of whether they improve PR practices or widen the hack/flack divide. One thing’s for certain, they do highlight how, as an industry, PR steadfastly refuses to let go of old practices.

I’ve banged on before (at length) about the irrelevance of many PR practices yet try as we might, as an industry we can’t seem to change our ways. Is it because PR offers an old fashioned ‘career’ and many of us hang around for 10-20 years regurgitating old habits? Is it because PR and marketing degrees teach grads that this behaviour is normal? Is it because PR, like marketing, disappeared up its own arse in the 1980s with models and handbooks that sounded grand in theory but were useless in practice? Or is it simply because we constantly feel the need to justify our existence and there’s no better way of doing that than spewing out emails to all and sundry, working on the assumption that somewhere along the line, something will stick?

To be honest, it’s probably all of the above if not more. And the media don’t get off scot free either. Times may be tight now, but during the good times they grew fat – and sometimes lazy – on the bountiful harvest of junkets and stories that PR provided. Only now, with email overload exacerbating the brutally harsh business climate for media outlets are we seeing a backlash against the hand that once (well)fed them.

Of course, I’m generalising massively. I don’t know how many people on this list actually believe that it’s OK to send out irrelevant emails or indeed how many are on their unfairly judging by the ambiguity of the selection criteria I outlined above.

 Neither do I know whether the journalist is a diligent hard working hack who’s had enough of poor practice or just someone who fancied making a name for himself during the first week of 2010. What I do know is that it’s time for a change, and I’m afraid the onus lies with the PROs.

We need to ask ourselves whether we’re delivering to our client’s business goal or whether we’re simply satisfying short term targets for coverage and measurement.  In an age of changing habits around media distribution and consumption along with shifts in audience perceptions on trust and trusted sources, is the scatter-gun pitch really an appropriate course of action if we’re trying to help clients sell more product and/or change brand perception?  I’d hope the answer to that is obvious.

But the hacks have a role to play too. They do need to accept – sometimes with better grace – that they will always get emails and calls that aren’t spot on. And that it’s not just up to us, the PRs, to change. There are few media outlets that can afford to pay staff to sniff out, research and write stories from scratch, most will have to work with some form of PR representative, and as long as a “them and us” mentality prevails, things aren’t going to change.

“All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”

It is remarkable that when Marshall McLuhan made this observation the Internet (Arpanet) was about to be born and the World Wide Web was still 17 years hence. He was referring more generally to media, although electronic media and databases were as central to his thoughts as to the source of the next big change. As for being worked over here’s a few recent stories: a man called Cal 9000 in the US marries his avatar, San Antonio in Texas becomes the first major US city to be without a book shop, on his wedding day at the altar one man tweeted “Standing at the altar with @TracyPage where just a second ago she became my wife! Gotta go, time to kiss the bride.” British physicians were advised to ignore amorous advances from patients after some were propositioned on Facebook, Dutch lawmakers were told off for tweeting in parliament and in Canada an MP had to apologize for insulting a rival on Twitter.

The speed and pervasiveness with which social media has driven new personal behaviours – from Facebook communities to blog commentaries and twitter streams – barely merits comment as being so extraordinary. In political terms the impact of the new channels on Obama’s triumph has been well documented and in other democracies they are clearly affecting the discourse between society and it’s aspiring political leaders. While the use of twitter by Iranian dissenters has provoked a new wave of ‘centralising’ activity from the Chinese government. In the economic sphere the takeover is less complete. Although huge volumes of commerce are now driven through e-channels the full impact of social dialogue is really only just being understood. If markets are now conversations then business clearly has much to learn about adapting behaviours and embracing this new customer or even activist consumer mind set. Indeed enterprise has been relatively clumsy in its response to this new dynamic compared to political organisations. So the Web hasn’t quite worked business over but the commercial world is beginning to see the need to adapt and practice listening.

To reflect on the aesthetic and psychological again a quick reference to the 1960s: “In an electronic information environment minority groups can no longer be contained – ignored. Too many people know too much about each other. Our new environment compels commitment and participation.”

Much has been written about this new ability to participate and imperative to become engaged and stay engaged in small communities, yet the deeper impact of this on aesthetic and psyche remains obscure. What do these new relationships mean in terms of how we understand influence, become engaged and trust one another? How do we form, spread of idea’s and their amplification in people’s daily life? Who creates this new approach and what are the ascetic principles? These are all questions that remain open. However, one clear ascetic side effect has been the growth of freakery and geekery as shown in the examples from personal life. One New Year’s prediction – while there’s still time – is that 2010 will be the year of the Art geek as augmented reality and other outlandish trends are amplified by online curators. Heck – as with the film Avatar’s may even come to replace flesh and blood actors.

As to the ethical, moral and social implications of being worked over by the web I am not sure where to begin any thoughts would be most welcome.

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