January 2011

Google is the most trusted source for UK company information according to Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer.

Basically, a search engine that applies no editorial filter to its results – as far as I am aware – is more trusted than the BBC and all of our quality papers.

For me this is further proof – if it were needed – that public relations has undergone a fundamental shift from a broadcast model (taking a client’s message to the media) to a conversational model (creating compelling conversations that encourage participation and action).

Ironically, the humble press release’s cause has probably been strengthened though its role has completely changed. No longer is it the genus of a story, the means to get quality coverage, its primary remit now is to get the Google juice flowing, to push a story up the page rankings.

This means however that the forum or channel for that story becomes secondary. What on-line publication or channel carries the story is less important to its Google ranking. We all think that coverage in the FT, The Sun or The Economist will have the most amount of impact for a client, but in actuality, a lesser known website with better search rankings is likely to be of more benefit.

This change in audience trust and perception also means that PROs of a certain age need forget a lot of what they know, or at least realise that they need to know more. Media relations is still massively important, but it’s a composite skill that needs to sit alongside experience of and excellence in community management, influencer engagement, above the line marketing, branding and creative design, promotions and sponsorships and other broader marcomms skills.

I’ve said it before (and often) that PR has the chance to become the central hub of the broader marketing mix. We have the opportunity to become the creative lead for clients from which hang all other marketing activities. Considering PR is often the last in line when budgets are allocated, this presents a significant opportunity to broaden our experiences and skill sets and really take public relations into a new position of leadership not to mention revenues.

As the trust results show, the public is slowly warming to companies and individuals. Some industries have a lot of work to do (bankers, I’m looking at you) but by and large, trust is returning. Old skool PR does not speak to this new environment. Times are changing, so should we.

For more information on Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer please take a look here – http://bit.ly/hI1Qxw. 


As a Premiership manager who goes to extreme measures to avoid the inconvenience of post match interviews and who has refused to even speak to any reporter from the BBC for last 6 years, Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson would be an unlikely source of advice for PR agencies. But in a sector whose principal assets arrive in the morning and leave at night, football can provide some remarkable insights on the management of human capital, or “talent” as it is otherwise known.

The Financial Times – no less – drew attention to the techniques employed by Sir Alex in his management of highly paid stars in a recent Lex column. The piece draws parallels to the management of talent within the banking sector.

PR agencies are not protected by patented machinery, capital equipment or (as in the case of the banking sector) high speed technology and layers of regulation; all that´s required to conduct a PR campaign today is a telephone line and an email account. The performance of a PR agency really is driven by the talent at its disposal.

As in football some agencies or teams pay staff higher salaries than others, but – as with football – a higher salary budget does not automatically lead to greater team success (cue gratuitous jibe about the number of years Manchester City and Newcastle United have remained trophyless). The key is in the management.

In PR agency terms, this is typically summed up at the recruitment or review stage; does it make sense to recruit (or remunerate) the team “star” or the team “worker bee”? As Lex puts it:

“The tension is created by the conflict between bureaucracy and charisma (in the words of sociologist Max Weber). Bureaucracies are efficient, but dull and prone to run out of imagination and energy. Charisma is exciting and effective – it scores goals, both literal and metaphorical – but can be disorganised and disruptive.”

In practice, agencies need both; creative risk takers and reliable process implementers. The key is to understand which, what level of each role is required in your team and who is best equipped to play it.

The same is true of football, no team could compete if made up exclusively of charismatic stars (cue snide asides about The Netherlands never having won a World Cup); or in other words, the reason why John O´Shea has four Premiership and one Champions League medals (as this group helpfully remind Liverpool fans). You can blame it all on Max Weber.

“This Cloud thing’s fecking brilliant, Ted! It’s like all white and fluffy and everything…”

The headline is based on the recent news that Sir ‘Bob’ as he’s known locally, or Sir Bob Geldof of BandAid and LiveAid fame among other things, is a follower of Cloud Computing. Well what he apparently said at the BETT tradeshow is that it is “Fooking brilliant.”

Obviously Sir Bob had an agenda, otherwise the non-email or smart phone using celeb would have looked even more out of place, but I’m starting to feel the Cloud debate is all becoming a little ‘Father Ted.’ (And I would like to confirm that I am in no way comparing Sir Bob or the Irish in general to the characters of ‘Father Ted’ – the author is Irish – so no need to send the indignant outrage emails…please!)

The more sensible reason for this thinking was provoked by Jason Stamper’s predictions for the year ahead and its mention of last year’s Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies 2010.

I agree with Jason that there is every danger Cloud Computing, the catch-all for anything-over-the-Internet, is going to crash into the trough of disillusionment unless vendors are careful.

Gartner would, I’m sure, be happy to consult concerned parties for a small fee – particularly as they believe Cloud is the number one priority this year – but here’s some much cheaper thoughts from the communications perspective! Cloud is here to stay, without any question, but the pseudo religious fervour that some applying to this debate has allowed the mud slingers to continue re-using tired arguments around security, reliability and scalability…as borne out by the Economist article in December, which I’d personally like to thank for its guidance on the pronunciation of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS. (apparently, it’s ‘letter’ + ‘arse’…what bright spark came up with that branding idea!?)

While Cloud continues to be perceived in this way it is easy to see why enthusiasm is wavering.

Like any chasm crossing moment there are important business steps to follow and the communications strategies should be an integral of the process. The key focus areas should be:

1) Listening: demonstrate through your communications that you are listening to your customers and show you understand their challenges. While it is obvious to you that Cloud is the way forward, quite a large majority of the world don’t think that.

In fact they’re quite happy where they are and have grown up with a clear understanding of how to review, deploy and refresh their IT systems. Fundamentally you need to re-educate prospects on the ‘A to Z’ of IT strategy and implementation and that can’t be done while you’re thumping the pulpit.

2) Differentiation: be clear about what you do differently. For the cynics out there among the enterprise IT community (apparently there are one or two) all of the different acronyms and platforms just encourage individuals to roll their eyes. Case in point might be Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Looking closely at the recent Gartner IaaS magic quadrant the term ‘hosting’ is used as often as any other, so what makes these folks different compared to traditional hosting services? Pardon me for this sweeping generalisation, but clarity when communicating a proposition is critical.

3) Avoid Cloud Fatigue: while I haven’t come up with the right equation yet I’m sure there is an extension to the Gartner Hype Cycle, which includes the role that celebrities play in the technology lifecycle – situations where they can provide a positive impactand others where they undermine the value of the latest new, new thing (eg: Paris Hilton on the iPhone4). Clearly, vendors looking to encourage further adoption of their technologies need to be careful of preaching. Customers are taking greater control of their IT strategies, refusing to be tied into long-term contracts, so there is even more need to engage with them in dialogue on their terms, listen to their perspectives and be seen to respond. If Cloud Computing is as agile as it says on the tin, then vendors have to be prepared to engage on these terms.

The soap opera goes all X Factor.I discovered today that the popular UK TV soap opera, EastEnders, will actually change one of its storylines in response to a barrage of complaints from viewers. The storyline in question referred to the cot death of a baby whose mother attempts to switch for a healthy one. The scenario caused outrage amongst parents, support groups and campaigners; over 10,000 complaints have been received to date.

I know all this from reading this morning´s Spanish press. El Pais relates who various scenes have had to be reshot to accommodate the replacement storyline, including footage which was actually diffused during the New Year edition.

I´m not exactly sure how this historical revisionism will be undertaken in practice (will it all be a dream a la “Dallas”?)

ahhh. it was all a dream. clever.

or whether it represents the first stage of X Factor-style scripting where viewers elect their preferred plotlines.

What I find more alarming is the fact that people still consider soap operas to be somehow a genuine reflection or comment on real life. They are no such thing; nor they should not be. They are pure escapism. While the lives portrayed in Dallas or Dynasty were based on unlimited luxury and beauty, EastEnders seems to thrive on precisely the opposite: misery and squalor.

I must confess that my impression of the latter is defined purely by the two Christmas edition specials to which I´m subjected once a year when I visit my family in the UK (each producing a body count comparable to Zulu or Full Metal Jacket; I´m referring to the Christmas specials not my family, although Christmas can be tense!).

This “soap opera as a reflection of true life” perspective and the protests around EastEnders´ cot death storyline, suggest that people are actually using such programmes as a form of education, to inform themselves about current affairs and generate or influence a particular point of view.

Such as situation would be as alarming as it is absurd, bringing to mind one episode of the cartoon series the Simpsons. On receiving news that Bart has been caught shop lifting, Homer laments his son´s lack of respect for law and order; “Why do you think I took you to all those Police Academy movies? For fun? Well, I didn’t hear anybody laughing. Did you!?”.


A wildcat strike by Spanish air traffic controllers that paralyzed Spain’s airports and stranded hundreds of thousands of travellers this past weekend deflated the tourism industry’s hopes for a big start to the holiday season. Cancelled flights led to empty hotel rooms and rippled out to the restaurants and shops that depend on tourist spending.

But while families fumed about lost holidays (it was, after all, a long holiday weekend for the majority of Spaniards), and the airline and tourism industries decried hundreds of millions of Euros in losses, there were a couple of sectors that didn’t fare so poorly. In fact, retailers saw their sales climb a modest but welcome 2% compared with the same period last year. People, it seemed, were determined to enjoy their leisure time and if they couldn’t do so at a resort then the department stores were a good alternative.

The media also saw their numbers of viewers and listeners soar as people tried desperately to understand if and when they’d be flying. The word ‘controller’ became an important Trending Topic in Twitter, with more entries than ‘Obama in Afghanistan’ or ‘Wikileaks’. One out of every 200 messages sent worldwide through this social network between Friday, December 3 and Saturday, December 4, referred to the strike. Social networks were crucial channels during the crisis; users from all across Spain uploaded their video protests on YouTube or airlines such as Vueling and Spanair contacted their clients through Twitter as their websites collapsed under the avalanche of requests.

Air traffic controllers have been grumbling about their pay and work conditions for at least a year, but didn’t become global news until they left their control towers. Media such as the Financial Times, BBC News, and Reuters have echoed the situation that Spain and its citizens lived through as air traffic came to a screeching halt.

For now people can live with the ‘state of alarm’ decreed immediately after the wildcat action, which moved the nation’s air traffic control system under military supervision. They can probably also live with the on-going political disputes over who’s to blame and what should be done. And just maybe they’ll forgive disobedient air traffic controllers, a privileged group of 2.400 people who earn an average of 300.000 Euros a year, a very handsome sum by any standards but particularly princely during recessionary times. But Spaniards won’t forgive more lost vacations.

It’s interesting to consider how this developed over Christmas, with the weather this time being the prime cause of concern for those looking to get away over the festive period. Hotels and restaurants eagerly await visitors and diners, and retailers hope shoppers will stay in the holiday spirit. Essentially it comes down to this: if the planes take off, everything else is on.