Merry Christmas from escherman!

Here’s the escherman Christmas video card, courtesty of Animoto (definitely one of the must-have applications of 2008 – and no doubt of next year as well). Many thanks to all the readers of this blog in 2008 – hope you’ve all found something of value here. Look forward to more blogging in 2009!

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A (secure) Xmas message from ArmstrongAdams

Here’s a Christmas message from Tim Kipps at ArmstrongAdams, an escherman client:

“We’d like to wish you a very merry Christmas.We don’t send cards because it’s not good for the environment. Instead we’ve donated the Christmas card budget to Concern Worldwide to buy chickens. We named the first two ‘Lunch’ and ‘Dinner’.

Also, because it’s been economic doom and gloom this year, we thought it would be fun to make a little Christmas video to cheer people up. It’s a bit ‘edgy’, so if you’re easily offended please don’t watch it.

Click here for the video. You’ll need sound and Flash 9 or higher.

If you enjoy it, please forward the link to others who will too. If not, please email us a slap on the wrist.

Happy Christmas!”

Tim (and all at ArmstrongAdams)

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“Software as a Service: it’s about the business model, stupid” says SaaS-IT Consult

A quick plug for client SaaS-IT Consult and their new whitepaper entitled “Software as a service: It’s about the business model, stupid”.

SaaS-IT say that too much focus on technology and a failure to develop new business models will mean many traditional IT industry players such as ISVs and resellers may fail to capitalise on the emerging Software as Service (SaaS) market.

They also say the SaaS market has got more in common with supermarket retailing than traditional IT sales models. Or as they put it, selling cheese rather than technology.

As SaaS-IT founder and partner Anders Trolle-Schultz remarks: “Software as a Service (SaaS) is going to have a major impact on the business world in the next few years. In spite of this, virtually all of the discussion around SaaS to date has focussed on technology – and that SaaS is merely a different technology delivery model. The simple fact is that SaaS isn’t about technology at all. It’s a business model. As a result, mainstream SaaS adoption will require a major mindset change on the part of all participants, not least the existing IT channel. Technology is not the main market inhibitor. We have produced this new whitepaper to help move the debate and discussion toward the real business drivers in the development of the SaaS market.”

Click here to download copies of the whitepaper,”Software as a service: It’s about the business model, stupid”.

About SaaS-IT

SaaS-IT is Europe’s leading Software As A Service (SaaS) business enablement consultancy. SaaS-IT provides a bespoke mix of practical, real world consulting services to allow small to medium size ISVs, value added hosters and mainstream software vendors to optimise their SaaS business capabilities.

Unlike larger generalist and technology led consultancies, SaaS-IT delivers an unrivalled level of business partnership expertise to ensure SaaS market opportunities are properly validated and optimally executed where appropriate.

SaaS-IT consultants have extensive expertise, understanding and experience of local European market conditions and are best positioned to advise on all aspects of SaaS business enablement including messaging, pricing, sales & marketing, demand generation, licensing models, product development lifecycle, and support operations.

digital pr online pr tech pr Technology PR and open source PR (more evidence for Most Frequent Contributor power)

According to Joe Brockmeier at ZDNet, Amazon is taking an open source approach to PR:

The company has announced what it calls its “Holiday Customer Review Team.” These are six Amazon customers who are particularly active in writing product reviews that it has offered to reporters to discuss gift picks. (They also contribute their recommendations on a page on Amazon’s site.)

Amazon says that members of the team are “real people giving unbiased advice to fellow consumers. They are not employed by, Inc. or its affiliates.”

Have to admit this a twist on open source PR I hadn’t considered. However, more interesting for me was that it seemed to provide more evidence of the potential power of Most Frequent Contributors. I am curious to know whether Amazon will also have a page where these reviewers highlight their “Xmas turkeys”. In order to show real independence, you’d want them to give you guidance about things to avoid as well as check out.

Nevertheless, I’m going to keep an eye on how this open source experiment progresses.

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Why Backtype points to the future of PR

UPDATE (2nd November 2020): This post was written many years ago – and BackType no longer exists. However, the need for such tools has not gone away. One worth looking at today is BrandMentions which offers online brand and media monitoring and reputation management capabilities.

According to Todd Defren: “Excuses for not doing supremely excellent (PR) work are dwindling yet again, thanks to a new service called BackType. BackType lets you “find, follow and share comments from across the web.” Whenever you fill out the “URL” field in a blog’s comment form, BackType tracks it. If you’re pretty prolific online, use BackType to keep tabs on your past conversations. And it goes one better, in terms of Blogger Relations: BackType also allows you to track and subscribe to some of the most influential folks on the Web.”

I agree with Todd that Backtype is yet another free, powerful tool that any decent online PR specialist would be foolish not to use. However, I think Backtype points to a bigger picture.

According to a recent Rubicon Conuslting report: “About 80% of user-generated content on the web, including comments and questions, is created by less than 10% of web users, a group we refer to as the most frequent contributors (MFCs). But despite the low content creation rates, online communities have enormous influence on almost all web users. Online comments and reviews posted by the enthusiasts are second only to word of mouth as a purchase driver for all web users. Those personal reviews are far more influential than official reviews posted by a website or magazine, or information posted online by a manufacturer. This means the old idea of “influencers” is confirmed and explained. The most frequent contributors are the influencers, and they have a strong influence on purchase decisions because they write most of the online recommendations and reviews.” (My emphasis).

Two things to note. First, if PR is about influencing the influencers, then Backtype is another great tool for helping to understand where influence lies. If you look at the people who contribute most frequently, it does read like a roll call of A-list bloggers. So being able to identify not only who contributes most, but also where they contribute (and who in turn may be influenced by these comments) is surely a no-brainer in terms of developing an online influencer strategy.

However, does it not also demonstrate that in order to be an influencer oneself (personally or as a business) then you need to be a contributor. However, simply upping your volume of comments with no thought to where or what you are saying is just spam. But isn’t this the role of social media PR? To help clients make more frequent, more targetted, more informed contributions to the most appropriate online communities? If Rubicon Consulting is right, then those businesses that make the effort to make a greater contribution in terms of content and comment are those that stand to gain most. And surely this is where PR can and should be helping businesses to do just that? To pick up on a recent post by my old colleague Stephen Waddington (whose blog is also a must-read, BTW), PR should be based on a consultancy model. Helping clients to become effective Most Frequent Contributors can only be achieved by a mix of expertise, experience and execution. PR firms that can deliver the right balance of these skills are surely best placed to thrive in the coming years.

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The business of PR – part two

(Note: this post first appeared here on May 16th, 2005)

I’ve been enjoying Michael O’Connor Clarke’s Seven Deadly Agency Types – not least because he clearly speaks from experience – and it reflects a lot of what I have seen myself over the years.

His current analysis is of large, multi-national PR firms – I’ve highlighted some his comments below and added my own commentary.

A key part of the value proposition these behemoths offer to clients is the apparent advantage of homogenous, fully integrated PR representation in every region you might want to operate. The promise is that you’ll be able to get the same quality of service, the same methods, the same reporting tools, and complete coordination of all activity wherever you need PR.

The key word here is “promise” – in reality, even the PR firms themselves would acknowledge in private that they can’t offer the same quality of service everywhere – by definition, some agencies have better people and better experience in some things rather than others – or the pool of local PR talent is just not applicable to every client. For example, the German agency may have a great reputation for handling telecom work, but no experience of enterprise software – however, the promise is that everyone, everywhere will be able to provide the same quality of delivery. In fact, in most cases, the clients know this too – however, they want to believe it is true – and there are other motivating factors for their decision to go with this kind of approach – more on this below.

You have finite marketing resources. If you’re like most companies, your PR dollars probably represent a relatively small portion of your marketing budget. And your marketing budget these days is, no doubt, considerably lower than it might have been in the crazy days of the mid 90s. Your mid-sized budget for agency services now has to be split somehow between two or more different offices – each office bearing the same brand identity, but each of them running on their own individual P&L and productivity targets. What might have been a decent size of retainer for one firm, suddenly becomes a lot less attractive when it’s chopped up. If, like most clients in this situation, you opt for something like a 70/30 or 80/20 split – one of the offices is going to find it tough to justify hauling themselves out of bed to service your account for the fractional budget portion they’re getting. For the good of the firm, they’ll probably agree internally to handle you as an investment account – hoping the budget will grow as they deliver great results for you. The reality is, you’re still going to get short shrift.

This is the another dirty little secret of international PR networks – as described above, most of the agencies are doing this as a “favour” to the lead agency (either in the US or UK). By any rational business analysis, the work they are expected to do does not justify the amount they are being paid – however, they do it for the “good of the network” – but the account teams who have to burn the midnight oil for these loss leaders don’t quite see it that way. The fact is that domestic PR work accounts for the vast majority of agency income even in big international networks. Which leads to another PR paradox. The agency people who get the best out of international agency networks are those that are prepared to spend time with their counterparts in other countries and do unpaid “favours” for each other – ie the French agency has a client in London for a few days and wants a few press meeting setting up – however, they have a miniscule budget – UK agency does it on the basis that they may need to call upon the French for a favour some time. When a big international client has a particularly demanding campaign, the guy in London with the most favours in the bank can get his international colleagues to play ball – when under any other circumstances they’d laugh till they cried.

The paradox is – the person who puts in this extra unbilled time to elicit this relationship doesn’t get any thanks for it – in fact he/she probably gets a ticking off for not pulling in any revenue for this unbilled time – even though they are trying harder than anyone to making the international network concept work.

It’s entirely natural that big clients are gravitationally attracted to big PR firms. In a trend that has paralleled the ongoing consolidation in the agency world, many Global 1000 organizations have been moving to centralize their agency relationships. For a multi-billion dollar company, with operations in fifteen or so countries – appointing a single global agency of record just seems to make good business sense. Certainly, the alternative approach – individual agencies selected on merit in each region or for each business unit – can tend to look messy.

What is often forgotten is the real driving factor behind going with a single agency network. Having a single rear end to kick is certainly one element of this – also, some clients don’t actually consider results as their main priority – they are more bothered about the process – and making sure they have something in place to cover themselves if things don’t work out.

Big global clients may think they’re being smart by signing a single contract with one of the top tier shops, but I’ve seen many, many examples where a head office mandate to use the same agency everywhere in the world has ended up causing horrendous problems for individual regional offices.

The real problems occur here when the decision to go with a single agency is taken centrally with no consultation with the company’s local organisations. Those on the ground who have probably been working with their own local PR agency very happily are told they have to drop them and work with a bunch of people they had no hand in choosing and who they don’t know from Adam. Human nature suggests that resentment is built into the relationship from the start. The new agency spends most of its time trying to deal with people who bitterly resent them being there in the first place – so even when the agency might be quite good, they end up spending inordinate amounts of time just trying to placate their local clients rather than actually trying to do any work for them.
And please, don’t tell me your award-winning global intranet solves the inter-office communication problems. Even with the most sophisticated networked communications infrastructure, how much of your budget do you really want to see chewed up by staff keeping up to date with what everyone else on the account has been doing for you lately. There’s better ways to skin that cat.

Award-winning global intranets are either:

a) Vapourware – if the client ever asked to see the thing in action as opposed to the slide about it at the pitch, they might be in trouble

b) Crapware – some of the most god awful intranets every built are those that big agency networks have tried to put in place – in fact, they’d all make great case studies for how not build an application – hopeless design specs, inappropriate software development staff, total lack of user input, etc.

Lets face it, most international agency internal communiation is done by a weekly telephone conference call which never gets 100pc attendance. Or every agency submits a Word document which some poor sap at the hub has to try and consolidate into one completely unusable report.

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The Business Of PR – Part One

(Note: this post originally appeared here on May 13th, 2005 – over 3 years later, how much has really changed?)

Discussion of PR on blogs almost entirely centres around media relations or external communication (2008: Twitter). However, no-one ever seems to talk about things like account management or business development. One of things that journalists rarely understand (and why should they?) is that media relations is only one aspect of the PR consultancy business (or in-house for that matter – you still have a client – in fact you probably have many different internal clients).

Someone working in a PR consultancy inevitably divides their time between client facing work, media relations, and possibly business development. We should also throw people management into the mix too. How much time you spend on each is usually inversely proportional to where you sit in the hierarchy. People who “get on” in PR companies are invariably people who are seen as good at client management or business development (interestingly, you rarely find people who are good at both – this is known as the “hunter vs farmer” distinction). And this has always struck me as rather odd. Those who are seen as great business development people usually prevail over the “farmers” ie winning new business is seen as “better” than getting more work out of an existing client.

But in my experience, those who “win” the business rarely take any responsibility for delivering on what they have sold the client. It’s actually quite easy to sell the client on hugely ambitious targets if you don’t have to do it yourself. One of the most common reasons for client dissatisfaction is failure to deliver on what was promised at the pitch. And one of the reasons why morale takes a nose dive in teams is when they are told what the client expects them to achieve.

Account manager: “You promised them what???”

New business director: “You’re just being negative/not a team player/don’t come back until you’ve got the result”

Another odd paradox is that being good at media relations is actually a hindrance to progress up the food chain – at best, you might be asked to train others do it, but inevitably you stop doing what you were good at in the first place. At worst you become labelled as a one trick pony who isn’t really contributing to the growth of the business (because you are not winning new business or managing clients or teams). There is a natural ceiling to what people are prepared to pay a senior media relations person –so a plateau is reached and the usual route is out the door.

And yet when all is said and done, the prime reason a company hires a PR agency is to change or improve its press profile. Which is why many journalists are surprised when the people they deal with and value don’t seem to get on in an agency – or if they do, they cease to have any press contact because they are doing more valuable things like client management.

So a curious schizophrenia operates here – on the one hand, I defy anyone to find an agency that doesn’t extol the virtues of its media relations capabilities – and will spell out very clearly to the client why it is highly valuable. And yet internally, it is typically seen as an activity to be delegated to the lowest rungs of the ladder – and anyone who is any good at it – and wants to keep doing it – is ultimately sidelined.

The underlying premise of a lot of this is that it is inevitable you will lose a client eventually – keeping a client for 2 years is seen as a good run. Hence the focus on new business – you have to keep more coming in the top of the funnel to offset the inevitable business falling out of the bottom. And certainly in the technology industry, this sort of makes sense – it’s a reflection of the fact that client marketing people rarely last more than 2 years in a job – and one of the most common reasons for companies switching agency is simply the fact that a new marketing director or PR Manager has arrived and they want to make their own stamp – and an easy way to do that is to bring in “their own people.”

So whereas the business management 101 rulebook says you should focus on customer retention, the PR consultancy industry almost instinctively ignores it. And where you should invest in your most valuable products and services, PR companies do completely the opposite.

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The PR demographic timebomb

Two years ago, I posted a note about a survey of junior PR folk, conducted in December 2006, that showed a “staggering” (PR Week’s own word) 80pc of them were planning to leave the industry within 10 years. 15pc said they would get out after only 1 or 2 years, with 32pc saying they’d exit in 2 – 5. A further 27pc said they might remain in PR for between 5 and 10 years.

At the time, PRCA director-general Patrick Barrow also conceded that the traditional PR agency model puts “disproportionate pressure on those at the bottom of the heap.”

In that same post, I quoted survey results that showed that middle management level PRs – average age 35 and 41 for consultancy and in-house staff respectively – were those most likely to quit their jobs in the next 2 to 3 years.

In the light of the kerfuffle over Dennis Howlett’s recent Nietzschean style “PR is dead” post, I was wondering if there was any more recent data on any of the above. If that first survey was correct, we should already have seen 15pc of the recruits from 2006 exiting the industry. I haven’t seen any figures to suggest any decline in the numbers of PRs employed – so either the exodus never happened or the 15pc have simply been replaced with a new crop of joiners. Clearly the disproportionate pressures on those at the bottom are set to rise in the current economic environment. Overservicing is rife and will no doubt be further exacerbated. Which suggests perhaps that more young PR folk are likely to jump the ship. And has there been an exodus of 35 – 41 year olds in the last two years?

If experience and expertise are needed to solve Dennis Howlett’s problems with PR, then we can only hope the demographic trends revealed in these surveys two years ago are going to go in reverse.

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“PR is so over”: why Dennis Howlett is right

Dennis Howlett has thrown a veritable grenade into the PR trenches with his latest post, PR is so over.

Dennis is angry as hell and he’s not going to take it any more.

“After 17 years, I’ve come to the end of putting up with what most PR offers. It is time to draw a line in the sand. Accordingly, any PR that emails me gets this standard response: “I’ve stopped accepting email pitches. Please follow me on Twitter and pitch in 140 characters or less.” Why be so draconian?”

There have been numerous comments to Dennis’ post from both PRs and journalists – mainly suggesting that he has perhaps over reacted and is potentially cutting his nose off to spite his face.

I’ve known Dennis for over a decade and we’ve had plenty of conversations over the years about what PR should and shouldn’t be.

In short, I think Dennis is absolutely right. But it’s important to properly understand what he is saying.

Dennis is perfectly entitled to request to be approached in the ways in which he chooses. And if he wants to be pitched by Twitter, then that’s what PRs will have do to – simple. He is merely taking a drastic, but logical, step to filter the noise he is subjected to.

But what kind of pitches does Dennis get? I’ll hazard a guess. Many will simply be press releases – and probably all of them have no relevance to what interests Dennis. Or they may be e-mails along the lines of: “My client is really fabulous – please write about them or talk to them.” Or variations on these themes. As Dennis says, a cursory glance at his blog and other written output would suggest to a trained monkey that this isn’t going to endear you to him.

Dennis knows his onions – he can sniff out bullshit at 50 paces. He wants people who have real knowledge and experience to give him intelligent insight and genuinely new and interesting perspectives on the software market. So why does he receive such a deluge of crap?

First – think about who does the pitching in agencies – as has been noted ad nauseum media relations tends to be delegated down to the junior ranks. On the whole, these are bright intelligent folk, But without getting too ageist about it, they haven’t had enough life/industry/business experience to have the kind of knowledge or insight to build a case that would stand up to Dennis’ scrutiny. I think even Dennis wouldn’t dispute that most of these people are hard working – his point would be they are working hard on the wrong things. Or they aren’t being given the proper training and direction to allow them to engage in a meaningful conversation with Dennis.

Dennis also asks a deceptively simple question – what does PR do – or rather doesn’t do.

As I’ve pointed out before, contrary to popular belief, media relations figures low down the list of things that PR companies do (15pc of agency time). In fact, given the average agency seems to spend 70pc of its time on account management, reporting and admin, calling them PR agencies is a misnomer – they should be called PR account management consultancies. To take Dennis’ figures, that suggests that clients are spending between £1050 and £21,000 a month on non-press facing activity. Or looked at another way, a mere £225 to £4500 is actually being spent on media relations. In which case, perhaps we are starting to arrive at an explanation for Dennis’ travails. Given that the really large ie >£100K PR accounts are few and far between, that suggests that the majority of PR business is in the £1500 to £5000 a month mark. So is it any wonder that if only £225 to £750 is spent on media relations for the average tech PR account, you end up getting the kind of low rent service that Dennis and countless other journalists receive? The kind of PR intelligence that Dennis craves costs money – so you get what you pay for.

We can argue about whether all agencies meet this activity breakdown – but I think there has to be a fundamental rethink of how agencies are staffed and structured in order to deliver the kind of services that clients are willing to pay for (at a profit for the agency), that meets the needs of the majority of journalists (like Dennis) and gives employees valuable and meaningful work that encourages them to do better, try harder and actually stick around in an industry that could really do with some fresh legs.

digital pr Media online pr People tech pr Technology PR

Where are the PR Numerati? (Is Stephen Baker reading this?)

Have just finished reading senior Business Week writer Stephen Baker’s book, The Numerati. A great read – and worthy of several blog posts rather than just one. However, this quick precis (and experiment) will have to suffice for the moment.

The underlying premise of the book is that a combination of maths, monumental data gathering, smarter algorithms and human brains are taking an ever more powerful and influential role in modern society. At first glance, many might dismiss this as a familiar “geeks are going to rule the world” kind of argument. However, Baker is more specific – it’s the mathematicians and statisticians that are wielding the power – and the people who adopt their mindset.

The book goes into detail as to how technology, data and mathematics are having (and will have) an immense impact in various aspects of life such as shopping, politics, blogging, terrorism, healthcare, even romance. In short, the mathematical modelling of humanity.

However, in relation to the field of PR, it did remind me of something that I’ve been banging on about for some time – namely, where are PR’s algorithms? Where are PR’s mathematicians? What PR campaigns are being driven by the kind of data gathering, maths and analysis that is clearly being deployed in other areas of business?

Steve Rubel at Edelman talks about “ a dearth of geek marketers – those who use and understand online sharing tools but also know how to sell a brand”. I agree that this is part of the equation, but there is also a need for the mathematical and analytical mindset in PR that Stephen Baker talks about.

Interestingly, Baker was recently asked in a Bad Pitch Blog interview if there was something he wished all PR people would do (besides leave the face of the earth)?

He replied: “In my dreams, they’d all have read everything I’ve written and understand in great detail the demands of each one of my channels. In other words, they’d quietly tee up just the kind of stories I want to write.”

Of course, even the most diligent PR these days is going to find it nigh on impossible to read everything about every relevant journalist on every relevant channel (the inability of human beings to even come close to digesting the data out there is a constant refrain in his book). Perhaps Baker was hinting that PR ought to be deploying the tools of the Numerati to analyse his output and to help shape the kind targetted PR he seeks? ie generating the kind of very specific and relevant subject lines he craves in PR e-mails.

On a slight tangent, the following is a little experiment.

I’m willing to bet that Stephen Baker has set up a Google alert for the term “The Numerati” – in which case, this blog post should be showing up in his Google Reader shortly. I’m also going to Tweet him directly to see if he responds (Hello Stephen – great book!). And by using the URL shortener, I’ll know how many people have been directed to this post via Twitter – and any ensuing conversation around it.

FYI, as I have a track record in building out journalist profiles via Twitter, I’m just wondering what some savvy mathematician would make of the following that might help better inform a PR approach to him?

Number of pages referencing Stephen Baker at Business = 4.010
Reference to the term Numerati over the last 12 months (allowing for the fact that is is a common Italian word)

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