Digital pebbles

Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Archive for the ‘comms’ Category

More on viral videos, gut feeling and measuring what’s measurable

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 11, 2007

I blogged about viral videos a couple of weeks ago. To save you reading the whole post, here’s a 19 word summary: I once thought that you could plan for a piece of video to go viral, but changed by mind. (It was a fascinating post. No, really…)

Then I came across this post from Nigel Hollis at Millward Brown (the WPP-owned research outfit) recently, which almost made me change my mind again. Almost.

He was commenting on an article he’d read in Advertising Age about Professor Duncan Watts, an Australian who has conducted a lot of research into viral campaigns and concluded that ‘influencers’ are not as important as word of mouth marketers would have us believe. He therefore advocates that any viral campaign should be treated in the same way as any another piece of mass marketing, and supported on- and offline through advertising, PR etcetera etcetera.

Duncan said:

“[You] cannot predict what is going to happen… Things happen randomly. You want strategies that don’t depend on being right, but do depend on being able to measure things very well. You throw things out there, with as low cost as you can manage and with as great a diversity as you can stand and then you see what gets taken up.”

In response, Hollis wrote:

“Things happen randomly if you do not plan and test, and throwing things out there risks a potential backfire. The one factor that is not considered by Duncan’s analysis is the ‘stickiness’ of the idea behind a viral campaign, and that is certainly not immune to testing. There is no reason why you cannot pre-test a viral campaign. The objective would be to ascertain the likelihood that people would share the ad with others and it would reduce the chances of failure by ensuring people did find the content relevant, compelling and worth sharing.”

I must confess I’d not considered pre-testing a piece of viral video in the way you would a TV ad. And I’m still not convinced it would work. Surely the web is too ‘random’ (to use that word in a highly unscientific way) for your typical survey sample to indicate whether a video will take flight and spread far and wide? Can such a survey really predict the subtleties of the network effects that are required for a video to go viral? Hollis thinks it can. I’m not so sure.

Online communities value spontaneity and serendipity. Sure, we sneaky PR and marketing people can do our bit to support a viral campaign and give it a shot at succeeding, but if you market research something to death before you unleash it online you may well squash the spark of creative genius that would have seen it go massively viral in the first place.

Admittedly Mr Hollis chooses his words carefully, and says that pre-testing can only “reduce the chances of failure”, which isn’t the same thing as predicting success of course. His post is well worth a read, and I’ve probably done him a huge disservice by pruning his argument so aggressively.

But the approach he favours still feels too clinical to me (and it may not be entirely co-incidental that Millward Brown offers such services as pre-campaign testing…)

I’m all for measuring what’s measurable in all forms of communication, but sometimes gut feeling must have a role to play.


Posted in comms, marketing, viral, web2.0 | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Of cultural barriers and corporate blogs

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 5, 2007

I was doing some preparation for a web 2.0 presentation the other day, and came across the blog of American airline South West Airlines.

At the time, this post was at the top.

It’s titled, ‘The freedom to luv my job’.

What follows is a tribute to the joys of working for South West, written by someone called Shelley. She’s had three jobs in her time at the company, and has loved (sorry, ‘luved’) every one of them.

To me, the post smacks of everything that’s wrong with some corporate blogs. It looks about as authentic as Pete Burns’ lips.

I simply didn’t believe someone would spontaneously write something like this. She was either coerced into it by someone in HR or PR, or – worse – had the post written for her by someone in PR, I thought.

Her message to the world even contains this gem of a sentence: “Needless to say, I learned a lot during my tenure in Compensation, and I grew to LOVE Excel spreadsheets!”

Surely no one LOVES spreadsheets enough to write the word in capitals? Do they? Not unless they’re desperate for a promotion they don’t.

But when I went back to the post today to get the URL I noticed that there are around 25 comments, all from South West employees, all of which are similarly ‘on message’.

There’s not one criticism of Samantha’s rampant enthusiasm. Many thank her for sharing her inspiring experiences.

Maybe, sitting here as a cynical Englishman, I underestimated cultural difference. After all, America is a country in which a giant Mickey Mouse wishes visitors to Disneyland a “magical day” and no one feels moved to vomit into the nearest paper bag.

What happened at the web 2.0 presentation itself got me musing on the same theme. At the end of the talk this morning, in which I’d criticised poor Samantha, I was asked by our client – which has offices all around the world and, crucially, isn’t headquartered in either the UK or America – about the problems of cultural difference.

If they set up a blog or used a social networking site such as Facebook, would they need to have versions in English, Italian, Spanish, etc? If they agreed to use English as the lingua franca, would that in itself create cultural issues in, say, Latin America?

These are good questions, and I’m not sure I have the answers. What I have learnt is not to underestimate Americans’ propensity to act as unironic cheerleaders for their employer – and that American/UK companies sometimes take the use of English for granted.

Time to get the thinking cap on.

[Update: In light of Brian’s comment, I think I need to stress that I changed my mind about Shelley’s post. That was my point, but maybe I didn’t make it clearly enough. I did come to believe that her comments were genuine, and that there was no arm twisting involved. I was trying to poke fun at myself for being blinded by my ‘European cycnicism’, not Shelley for demsontrating her enthusiasm for the job. I’d say she’s a lucky soul to have a job she loves so much.] 

Posted in B2B, blogging, business, comms, PR, socialmedia | 3 Comments »

When did Microsoft become the little guy?

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 3, 2007

Is Microsoft deliberately attempting to reposition itself as the put-upon, misunderstood tech giant that’s had its beanstalk chopped down and golden eggs stolen by Google?

(That sort of approach might make some sense, given that Bill Gates and co are still in a bit of regulatory hot water).
Or does the following statement from Steve Ballmer really reveal Microsoft’s mindset these days, now that it’s not top dog in a market that it feels it should own?

During his whirlwind tour of Europe (and bits of Africa) this week, Gates’ right-hand man was talking about the dangers of an overly dominant Google.

“It could be quite an economic problem for anybody who wants to offer an ad-funded experience on the internet, or anybody who wants to buy advertising,” he is quoted as saying by the Telegraph.

He then put Microsoft forward as “the most sensible, credible alternative to Google”.

Microsoft? The “credible alternative”? The irony of a company with Microsoft’s history saying something like this doesn’t need highlighting of course (but I’ve gone and done it anyway).

Intel’s Andy Grove once wrote a business book called ‘Only the paranoid survive’. Sounds like Ballmer’s read it, and has taken a leaf or two out of it as well. (Hope it wasn’t a library copy).

This is very unlike Microsoft somehow. It has a reputation for ruthlessness, for crushing the competition underfoot. Just ask Marc Andreesen. And it’s used to being number one.

Ballmer himself is well known for his massively ‘confident’ displays at conferences (see below). The word ‘bullish’ fits him – and Microsoft – perfectly. Or at least it used to. Ballmer’s now sounding unusually contrite.

If I was a betting man, I’d say his ‘credible alternative’ statement was a deliberate, well-rehearsed line. The EU ruling must have hurt (reputationally, rather than financially – Microsoft can afford the fine). It doesn’t want the anti-trust lawyers sniffing around forever, and shifting some of the attention onto Google isn’t a bad plan.

It’s also true to say that Google really is in danger of dominating the online space in the way Microsoft dominates the desktop. Indeed, it already does.

That isn’t to say we need feel sympathy for Microsoft though. It could’ve been a contender… and still could be, if the levels of paranoia are high enough. Or maybe it’s missed the point altogether.

Robert Scoble has also just written a post about Steve Ballmer, and why he simply doesn’t ‘get’ social networking. He also touches upon what he sees as Microsoft’s misguided online advertising strategy. Interesting stuff.

There is no direct link between the EU ruling and Microsoft’s take on Google’s dominance, of course, but it will be interesting to see if this change of tone becomes a consistent feature of its public utterances.  

Back to Ballmer. If you need to see evidence of his ‘bullishness’, you could do worse than watch this clip. It’s a timeless classic. I shall be incorporating his presentation techniques into our next new business pitch…

Posted in comms, google, microsoft, PR, socialmedia, web2.0 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

More on the drumming gorilla…

Posted by Graham Hayday on October 1, 2007

In a post last week I suggested that the viral nirvana achieved by Cadbury’s drumming gorilla could not have been planned.

The senior brass at Fallon, the creative agency behind the ad, are interviewed in the Media Guardian today, and suggest that this was indeed the case.

The article neatly paraphrases Fallon’s approach:

“With most agencies still getting to grips with the multimedia world, Fallon’s argument is that you just have to be very entertaining and the medium may do the rest for you.”

The use of the word ‘may’ is instructive. There are no guarantees with web 2.0.

Fallon’s argument could be said to apply to all communications (including PR). Even in B2B land, where being informative can take precedence over being entertaining, this phrase still has resonance.

It suggests that we need to forget about the medium, and focus on the message. If the content’s good enough, the web 2.0 world may do the rest.

Posted in comms, PR, socialmedia, web2.0 | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Mulling over the social media news release

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 17, 2007

We’ve got a company away-day tomorrow (or in this case away-half-day – we’ve got so much on at the moment that we can’t afford a whole day out of the office).

I’m due to present on the things journalists dislike about PRs. I’m quite looking forward to that. Having spent 13-odd years as a hack (and many of them were very odd), I’ve long wanted the chance to air some of my personal pet hates. I doubt any of my colleagues are guilty of such crimes as calling just before a deadline, of course, but still – I hope I can impart a few words of wisdom. (If you’ve got any good ones of your own, please do let me know. I’ll post my list once tomorrow’s done and dusted).

After that I’m thinking of talking about the social media news release (SMNR), or social media release (SMR), or whatever you want to call it. The problem is that I’m not entirely sure I’m sold on the concept. True – the much linked-to Shift Communications templates for the social media release and social media newsroom look fantastic.

I’ve got printouts of them in front of me on my desk as I type, and my instinct tells me this is indeed the future. In fact it’s probably the present – see GM and Cisco et al for evidence.

This story in PR Week (registration required) even suggests there is journalistic demand for more multimedia content in PR communications.

And it goes without saying (although I am nevertheless going to say it) that embedding ‘bloggy’ concepts such as tagging and social bookmarking in press releases is bound to help spread the word online.

However there’s still a part of me that wonders if there’s some ’emperor’s new clothes’ type behaviour going on here. PR Week quotes Will Ham-Bevan, the deputy editor of Telegraph Create (The Telegraph’s advertorial unit) as saying:

“For a press release to stand out, it really has to make a song and dance. If I can click to a pack-shot at 300dpi, I am far more likely to use it.”

But what happens if there comes a time when all releases look like this? What happens when we realise we’re all naked (as it were) and journalists and bloggers can only make their decisions based on what lies under all the multimedia, blogger-friendly bells and whistles?

Yes, there may be an opportunity for the more progressive PR agencies and clients to steal a march on the competition and gain some early adopter advantage by doing this sort of thing right now and grabbing the attention of time-poor journalists. But in the long run I suppose it’ll be the quality of the story itself that will really count, not the way in which the story is presented.

Plus ca change, as they probably rarely say in France.

Posted in comms, journalism, socialmedia | 1 Comment »

Social media vs MSM (it’s 1-0 at half time)

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 12, 2007 has just covered a report that compares the news agendas of the so-called mainstream media (MSM) with the sorts of story that rise to the top of the rankings on social media sites such as Digg, and Reddit.

The report (which was carried out in the US by the Project for Excellence in Journalism) makes for an interesting read, as it finds that there is little overlap between the content of the two.

To quote the FT’s piece:

“For example, in the week in question the biggest story for traditional news providers was a debate in Congress about reforms to immigration policies, accounting for 10 per cent of all news stories. It appeared just once as a top-10 story on Reddit, and not at all on Digg and, the study found.

Mainstream media sites also tended to focus on a handful of big issues, while user sites rarely returned to stories.

In addition, the analysis showed that coverage on the user-generated news sites focused more on domestic US events and less on news from abroad.”

The next sentence is crucial. It reads: “Technology and science stories were the most common on the user sites.”

That’s no surprise – the early and most enthusiastic adopters of services such as Digg tend to be geeks (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. Some of my best friends are geeks). The communities that these sites attract are therefore disproportionately interested in science and technology.

The most interesting thing to consider is what happens when or if these sites go mainstream (and it almost certainly is when). The penultimate paragraph of the story reads:

“The findings will fuel concerns about the situation of the mainstream media, especially as more people switch attention to the web and as advertising spending follows.”

I hope the writer of the article doesn’t mean that MSM should start covering more science and technology stories. It’s the geeks who really dig Digg at the moment, so as far as subject matter goes there’s no desperate need for MSM to change what they’re doing. They’re serving a different audience. The analysis also assumes that the users of Digg have reduced their consumption of other media. They probably have, but I’d like to see the numbers.

Regardless of that particular debate, the crucial point is whether MSM truly understand why these user-driven sites are so appealing. Power has been put in the hands of the people. We like being in control. The wisdom of the crowds should not be underestimated. And a lot of people don’t trust MSM.

Science and technology stories are attracting most of the attention on social media sites today, but next year it could be science and technology and the environment, then it’ll be science and technology and the environment and politics, then it’ll be science and technology and the environment and politics and sport, and so on, until MSM have no audiences left.

If they are to survive (and I think some of them will), the ‘old school’ crowd will have to let readers/viewers shape the news agenda. Channel 4 News has started along this route by becoming more transparent and blogging its news meetings, so at least we can find out why certain stories were covered and why certain angles were taken. That’s a bold and laudable move.

But the Project for Excellence in Journalism study suggests that even that may not be enough in the future. We need to be allowed to get even closer to, and shape, the decision-making process itself.

What does this mean for the PR community then? I’ve rambled on long enough for one post so won’t pontificate about that in depth right now, but it may be that we end up spending more time communicating directly with the ultimate consumer, and less time schmoozing journalists.

* UPDATE (13 Sept, 12:05pm): Roy Greenslade has just posted his thoughts on this report. Not entirely sure I agree with his analysis.  

Posted in blogging, comms, journalism, MSM, PR, socialmedia, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

On measuring PR and the ‘silo-isation’ of new media

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 11, 2007

E-consultancy recently hosted a roundtable discussion on online PR and has just published a follow-up report on it (thanks to Stephen Davies over at PR Blogger for the link).

The (free) publication is well worth a read.

Among its many sections is one on the thorny old topic of measurement. The roundtable participants agreed that “the benefit of online PR is not always immediate and it can therefore be difficult to measure – like traditional PR”.

Hear hear. I don’t think many of us would argue with that, even if it is worth having a go at measuring everything you can and demonstrating ROI wherever possible.

Yet there are undoubtedly clients out there who think that online PR activity is inherently more measurable than offline. That’s possibly a legacy of many marketing managers’ perception that online advertising is more measurable than offline, just because you can get stats on click-through rates on banner ads and the like.

That’s one of the great marketing myths of our time. Click-throughs rarely tell the whole story – for example, banners can have branding impact even if no one clicks on them. Who clicks through can be just as important as how many. So online advertising is just as hard to measure as offline. The same is true in PR circles.

Fortunately, the e-consultancy report goes on to suggest one way of keeping the stat-obsessed client happy – namely, to write outcomes into requirements. That’s very sensible advice. An outcome could be a certain number of downloads of a pdf document, or the number of people who engage with a piece of rich media (again, I’d suggest adding a ‘who’ into the equation as well, but that’s by the by).

One of the participants in the roundtable also highlighted the need to distinguish between actual behaviour (ie. what is clicked on, downloaded etc) and inferred behaviour.

That’s all well and good. But it set me thinking about why online PR practitioners are tyically under more presure to demonstrate ROI than the offliners. There’s the association with the click-through rates of adland of course, but another (related) explanation could be that online PR is seen as a separate discipline from ‘traditional’ PR by many clients, and therefore subject to its own forms of measurement.

The e-consultancy report found that online PR budgets are typically coming from ecommerce departments rather than from PR, and that organisations who want to make the most of this area usually employ specialist online PR agencies or search agencies.

Why? SEO and online PR are not the same thing (even if they are not-so-distant cousins), so using the ecommerce budget to pay for online PR is ridiculous. And loads of ‘traditional’ PR agencies are perfectly capable of delivering effective online campaigns (I know I would say that, given that I work for one, but I hope I’m not being overly biased here). When did you last hear a PR firm say that they can only get their clients print coverage, and if you need broadcast exposure then it’s best to go elsewhere?

This silo-isation of online PR (sorry for the made-up word) does no one any favours, least of all the clients themselves. Online campaigns work best when they’re integrated with offline activity. They require specialist knowledge for sure, but the techniques (and measurement methodologies) aren’t so very different from those deployed in the offline world. The ultimate purpose of PR – to increase brand awareness/drive sales/create ‘buzz’ or whatever – is the same wherever the activity takes place.

I’m still waiting for the day when the phrase “new media” drops out of common parlence. It’s just media really, isn’t it? 

Posted in comms, newmedia, PR, ROI, web2.0 | Leave a Comment »

Welcome to digital pebbles

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 6, 2007

Welcome to the first post on the Clarke Mulder Purdie blog, Digital Pebbles. In case you don’t know who CMP are, have a look at the ‘about’ blurb and click through to our website. If that’s too much hassle, let’s just say that we’re a corporate communications and B2B PR agency based in London, and we’re very good at what we do (which includes blowing our own trumpet and, indeed, those of our clients. As it were).

This blog will undoubtedly change as it finds its feet, but it’s safe to say that we will use it to keep our clients, contacts and friends (and maybe even the odd journalist – and they’d have to be very odd to subscribe to a PR agency’s blog) abreast of our latest activities. We may also share our thoughts on PR with the wider world.

(Yes, I do know that the last thing the wider world thinks it needs is another blog on communications/marketing, but ours will be worth reading. Honest. As are those in our blogroll).

I’d like to point out at this juncture that the posts will be personal (and will not necessarily reflect the views of the company, its clients, blah blah blah) and most of them will be written by me. So it’s not really a corporate blog. Honest.   

With that ‘covering my backside’ blather out of the way, on with the show. The first thing to announce is that we’re hosting the latest meeting of the Innovation Reading Circle on Monday (10 September. The book under discussion should provoke some heated debate – it’s called Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond. You might like to read the book itself. Or, if that’s too much effort, watch a video featuring the author talking about it (warning: it’s 75mins long). Or just read the Guardian’s review of it.

The evening meeting is fully booked, but keep your eyes open for other events we’re involved in here or on our Facebook group.

PS Just in case you were wondering, the title of the blog is supposed to illustrate how PR works in a web 2.0 world (I hate the phrase web 2.0 by the way, but it’s a handy shorthand for social networking, blogging etc so I will continue to use it). It’s hard to make a big splash in these days of media fragmentation, but by dropping a few virtual pebbles in the web 2.0 pond (yes, I know, rubbish metaphor) you can create some significant ripples.

Posted in B2B, comms, PR | Leave a Comment »