There’s a PR storm kicking off on Twitter. Briefly, an angry video game PR had threatened to blacklist gaming journos and websites that gave bad reviews to one of its client’s games.

Rightly, hacks and flacks have piled in to condemn this approach, and indeed the PR behind the Tweet has eaten ‘umble pie and apologized. But apart from highlighting yet again how Twitter is becoming THE channel for mainstream audience communications  – both good and bad – it also raises an interesting question, ‘can public relations prove the old adage wrong that you can’t polish a turd’?

For the uninitiated, the turd in this question is the game Duke Nukem. A legendary franchise that started life 20 years ago on the PC. After a 15 year hiatus – during which time the game’s title became a by-word for anything that was promised but never delivered – the latest installment was launched to much fanfare and pretty average (read poor) reviews. Put simply, the game seems like a bit of a dud.

I’ll admit straight away that I haven’t played it, and that’s sort of fundamental to this post. Games cost upwards of £35 so they’re hardly an impulse purchase…which is why game reviews websites, blogs and magazines retain a level of respect and importance in an otherwise fragmented media landscape. Aside from the hardcore franchise fans, most gamers want to know if they should invest their hard earned cash (or pocket money) in a title. The integrity of gaming reviews therefore is of paramount importance, hence the outcry at the PR’s attitude in this case.

I speak from experience. As a former video game journalist, my first ‘taste’ of PR was being given a fair amount of booze and assorted video game tat to ‘ahem’ help me review products. Being honest, the free stuff was secondary to the relationship myself and my magazine had with the PRs . The ones that came to see us and helped us with exclusives, tips and other useful stuff definitely benefited from lenient scoring on bad games. I also appreciated honesty on behalf of the PR…if they knew a game was shit and they didn’t try and polish a turd then we, in turn, tried to look for the positives rather than focus on the negatives. This approach is arguably universally true regardless of what PR discipline you focus on.

But my time served on the mags was nearly 20 years ago. Times have most definitely changed. There was no Internet back then, word of mouth or magazines were the only real channels to get an opinion on whether a video game (though it could have been any piece of consumer tech) was worth purchasing. In an age where peer recommendation is available at the click of a mouse (or swipe of a finger) I’m starting to wonder whether PRs should be focusing on polishing turds themselves, rather than trying to give influencers and media their own candy-coated dusters and  gold-clad cans of Mr Sheen.

By that I mean, accept that a bad product or service is a bad product or service but also accept that there are ways to move people to purchase outside the channels of media reviews. I’m not advocating bypassing the media and bloggers (you can’t anyway) rather I’m talking about creating compelling content and messaging, written and curated by the publishers and placed directly into the target audiences by the PRs themselves.

I’m sure many PRs will say that they are already doing this, but I doubt many of them have the sanction to honestly appraise the product they are promoting and adjust their approach accordingly.

Some might even say it’s not the PR’s role to make a value judgment on the quality of what they are selling-in to the media and influencers. I can sympathize with that view, but going on my own experiences of being a consumer tech hack, that approach doesn’t work in the long run. I’d also argue that it restricts creative thinking because the focus will most likely be on messaging and elements of the product or service that just won’t wash with the target audience. Far better – I would have thought – to know what the limitations of your product are and work around them?

So I guess I have some sympathy for @TheRednerGroup because I’m sure they knew they were pushing a product that wasn’t as good as the hype yet couldn’t find a way to communicate that understanding to their media and influencers without harming the client/agency relationship.  Perhaps they were in a no-win situation, their own kobayashi maru from which there was no escape, hence the ill-judged, frustrated and angry Tweet?

Perhaps. But I genuinely believe that if the PR industry as a whole gave itself a greater license to be honest about the output of its clients, then we’d all find that we can indeed polish a turd.

@pazman1973

*I apologize for the amount of times the word turd has appeared in the piece. ‘Silk purse’ and ‘sows ear’ just didn’t seem to have the same impact

Last year’s Mobile World Congress was greeted with cautious optimism that has since been replaced by real enthusiasm within an industry that continues to explore its potential

In preparing for this year’s Mobile World Congress I’ve been taking a look at the trends and insights that emerged from last year’s congress and seeing how far the mobile industry has come since then.

Edelman’s Kevin Bossi noted that last year’s event was approached with a kind of cautious optimism that was understandable after a year in 2009 that showed growth in mobile data services but financial instability around the world.

In 2011, this cautious optimism has given way to real excitement around a mobile market that is continually pushing its boundaries and seen as a driver for social and economic development. As ever the scope of the industry continues to grow and this offers up opportunities at the same time raising questions about how businesses define themselves.

The trends and themes from last year’s Mobile World Congress point to an industry that is reaching deeper into the lives of consumers while still exploring how far existing and new technologies can be pushed.

New Enthusiasm, Old Challenges

There has been excitement around new developments in devices with tablet computing taking hold in the market and new networking technologies like LTE hopefully solving mobile data challenges. Apps and gaming have also shown that the opportunities within the mobile market are still vast and not always easy to predict.

From looking at these innovations and the trends from MWC10, the question of the operators’ role in the mobile ecosystem is still one that has yet to be answered. It isn’t an easy question and one that is becoming even more difficult to answer. Pricing, bundled services and increased penetration won’t be generating buzz in the exhibition hall but they are all very real for operators as they try to convert network traffic into revenue gains. Operators have an uncertain future as they watch a vibrant market and seek to carve out a leadership role in it.

What is certain is that the mobile industry as a whole is being seen as a force for good. Mobile Money services are expanding as operators partner across verticals, mHealth is bringing efficiency to healthcare while the increased depth of wireless networking and affordable handsets bring more people online. While the buzz amongst technology journalists has been about the role of mobile phone and social networking in uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, they are already being used in the democratic process in Africa particularly in Uganda as well as regions across the continent.

Lessons to Learn

Emerging markets aren’t just taking advantage of new services as we saw at MWC10. Some of the largest brand presence at the event were from vendors and operators from outside of Europe and North America. Expect to see Huawei , ZTE, HTC on the hardware side and China Telecom, Bharti Airtel and Turkcell to be well represented again this year. Revelations about the Chinese government’s aid to its equipment vendor was not surprising and will not slow these companies down as they continue to take market share from Western mainstays in the equipment market.

What will be exciting is to see what lesson both operators and manufactures from emerging markets have to teach the industry about new services and what they see sustaining growth in the future. Players in emerging market will have some distinct lessons to share and it plays into an overall theme of this year’s congress. While technology is certainly at the core of the mobile industry, meeting the unique needs of different markets, communities and ultimately consumers is its goal.

A User-Centric Congress

Since last year’s congress there has been an increasing shift toward the user with a stronger emphasis on how people are using new technologies not just the technologies themselves. Consumers are more frequently asking themselves, “What can this technology do for me? What need does it meet and how does it improve the way I’m living my life?”

The tablet computing market has shown just how important it is to explain the usage scenarios of a device, not just the device capabilities. That is at least for competitors to the iPad that need a strong rational for why their device is superior and best meets the needs of the consumer.

Nowhere is the user more important than in the app market. MWC10 was awash with talk about apps ranging from mHealth to social media and what will be the next Angry Birds. The proliferation of apps and smartphones have allowed for greater levels of customization and allowed devices to offer suites services that can define a user’s experience.

More than ever it feels like the consumer is able to shape the future of the market and we’ll see this theme play out along side announcements around tablet computing, near field communications, LTE and gaming. All facets of the mobile industry from devices, the network and apps are all showing us something new and hopefully we’ll see a few surprises at this year’s event.

@Matthew_Whalley

@Edel_Telecom

Zynga, the fast-growing maker of Facebook games like FarmVille and Mafia Wars, has been called by the New York Times “the hottest start-up to emerge from Silicon Valley since Twitter and, before that, Facebook.” This week, its CEO, Mark Pincus, is profiled in the story, the second in two weeks, highlighting the company’s recent success (though not without its fair share of controversy).  Among other things, the article profiles Pincus as a fearless entrepreneur and visionary aiming to build an online entertainment empire as important to the internet “as Google is to search.”

While Zynga will cite profits and player numbers as success criteria, it is another recent trend Zynga is pioneering that has caught my attention; advertising through social gaming. Zynga came under fire recently for allowing advertisements into its games. Some ads, for example, signed up players for subscriptions to costly text-messaging services. This caused a PR headache for the company with TechCrunch, the technology blog, calling the practice “ScamVille,” after some users filed a class-action lawsuit.

But with 211 million players every month, according to AppData.com, Zynga is perhaps well on its way to making social gaming as important to the internet as anything else thanks to a new partnership with an American food manufacturer, (also covered in the New York Times recently).  Cascadian Farm, an organic farm in the U.S. and subsidiary of General Mills, is using one of Zynga’s more popular games, Farmville, to reach a growing customer segment through advertising. Instead of your bog standard click-through ads a la GoogleAd Words however, the Cascadian Farms content will be integrated into the gaming experience.  

In Farmville, you participate, create, build and manage your own farm. You gain experience points by visiting your friends’ farms and lending a virtual hand. From next week, players in the U.S. will be able to purchase (using farm bucks) and plant, an organic blueberry crop from Cascadian Farm.  In doing so, FarmVille users will learn about organic farming and green living through standard game play, and at the same time, earn additional points to grow fruits and vegetables or raise animals on their virtual farms. Cascadian Farm executives said in a New York Times article that they hope that the company can expand its food niche and make itself better known by increasing awareness among FarmVille’s audience – that’s 221 million players a month. Users will also be able to access a $1 off coupon.

It will be curious to see just how successful Cascadian Farm is on Farmville. Will the strategy work to attract and educate potential customers through participation and content or will it back fire just like the imbedded ads? While integration in game play gives the user unique exposure to content in an experiential manner, will users see through the stunt and reject it as advertising or is this campaign just clever enough to work?   
 

@jacqui_cooper