Thursday, November 17, 2005

How long before PR people have no daily print media to pitch?

Personally I think we are decades away from the complete death of the daily newspaper in the paper format. Not least because of the large number of commuters that quite like having something to swat their fellow travelers with. However, today's news that the LA Times has followed the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in making significant layoffs does to me at least signal how close we are getting to the end of the daily paper as we know it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The new PR economy

Not long ago PR Week carried a news piece on the growth of the PR industry. This was based on a survey by the private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS). VSS's survey says that US PR industry produced revenues of $3.41Bn in 2004, a 12% growth over the $3.05Bn in 2003. The survey went on to say that Technology remained the largest sector, with 27.4% share. Tech PR posting its first growth of any year since 2000, with a 5.8% rise over 2003. Meanwhile the consumer sector posted a hefty 20.7% increase over 2003 now accounting for 25.5% of the PR market. The last, and perhaps most interesting point in the survey, was the view that the PR industry has a relatively bright future, forecasting a 10.1% growth rate in 2005 and an 8.9% growth rate for the next five years, on average.

At first glance this is great to read. It certainly matches what I think most agency heads are experiencing when it comes to market opportunity. In our case we far exceeded these growth levels in our last year, with our US business posting a 23% gain in revenues. These kinds of growth numbers are of course reminiscent of the dot com boom years and we all know what happened after that. While I'm still seeing a great climate for PR in the US I wonder if the growth curve is even. I suspect it is not. I suspect that what we are seeing is some agencies growing rapidly while others are in decline. The net effect being solid industry growth. I also suspect that within sectors we are seeing some very uneven growth.

The good news overall is that our industry is growing though. That growth is sparking new firms to appear, for example I noticed a new Tech firm being launched in Boston last week. The emergence of new firms is also a sign that people are seeing an opportunity to capitalize on a weakness in the market for a certain type of service. The current 'weakness' that seems to be on the lips of the founders of these new firms is 'senior counsel.' I'll be blunt here, I think the real weakness is not senior counsel but value for money. Of course it doesn't sound as appealing to say you are launching a new firm based around value for money but that is where the market is. The growth of the PR market post the dot com boom is different. In the boom it was a simple supply and demand problem. Now we have the same problem BUT we have both an experienced client base and the procurement factor. By procurement factor I mean that for most large clients that agencies not only have to convince marketing communications professionals of their credentials but they also have to persuade procurement departments of their value.

Welcome to the new PR economy.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bait and Switch - What should be done?

One of my businesses recently lost out in a pitch to one of the ‘large’ agencies. The pitch had been a drawn out affair with lots of agencies in the fray. In the end it came down to a final two and we lost. I should say now that I hate losing so that needs to be factored in to the equation here. What annoyed me was that we lost out to a blatant bait and switch. It transpires that the winning agency brought a ton of people in to the pitch, of which only two junior people were ever going to work on the business.

I know that there are reasons why agencies do this. The best one is that the people who are good at pitching are not always the best at the work and vice versa. Other reasons are that the demands made in the pitch are rarely what a client wants once the work really starts. PLus there's the fact that the right people are either away or busy with existing client work. That said I do believe we need higher ethical standards on this issue. The client I mentioned is already annoyed to find that their new team is totally different to the one that pitched. Much as I’m skeptical about the ability of our industry to enforce codes of conduct and ethical standards I feel something needs to be done.

One way to solve this is to make resource planning a key part of all pitches so that the client can see in black and white what resources will be applied for the budget. The content here could then be an integral part of the initial contract. Another way to solve this would be for an organization like the Council of PR here in the US or the PRCA in the UK to promote a code of conduct on this issue and for them to set out rules their members agree to abide by.

Am I alone in finding the bait and switch issue frustrating? Personally I feel it does our industry no credit and only serves to re-enforce the image that PR is a less than ethical business.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Huntsworth and Media Square stick to their knitting

So Huntsworth is selling its non-PR businesses to Media Square in a move that makes both firms more interesting. Huntsworth inherited a collection of non-PR businesses when it merged with Incepta, not to mention a pile of debt. In selling to Media Square it becomes a more streamlined business with little or no debt, which has to music to the ears of the investors. For Media Square they get a business that reaches around the world and has good scale. What's striking is that this move goes counter to the way the larger comms Groups have tackled things. If WPP had been Huntsworth they would likely have merged with Media Square just to build a larger group that offered a full spectrum of marcomms services. These businesses have chosen a different path which I have to applaud. I'm delighted to see the management of these businesses stick with what they believe they know and do best.

Of course this does all mean that Huntsworth now really has to show that its non-PR businesses were holding it back and equally Media Square has to show that its competence in the marketing services area can be applied to the businesses that have of late struggled under the Incepta/Huntsworth umbrella. Time will tell I guess.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Measurement - Does anyone really care?

One thing is clear to me right now; measurement has failed to get on the PR agenda. Just read the main stories in the PR trades. Not one of them talks about measurement. Sure it shows up on RFPs, sure clients want to talk about how well things are going and they even want charts showing what a great job is being done for the money. But the sad truth is that PR measurement still doesn't command a meaningful part of most company's budgets. Some simple, albeit unscientific, research reveals that out of the five clients I asked not one does measurement in the same way (actually not all bother to measure). Furthermore none of those that do measure have a well defined budget for measurement when planning programs.

A broader look at measurement shows that many people do use firms like Biz360 or Carma but even then from what I can tell the PR staff tend to pay little or no attention to the results these services provide unless of course they think it will help with some internal presentation to justify the funding of the department. We shouldn't blame our clients for the sorry state of affairs here. After all, how much effort do most agencies put in to being measured? We are the ones who make moey from doing PR so we are the ones who should make sure our clients use tools to make sure that what we do is actually worth the money.

My own view on this is that we need an industry standard form of measurement in the way the ad industry has. This means we need to know what we are to measure, how often we measure it etc. We also need to start to establish an agreed way to invest in measurement. This could be either a certain percentage of fees applied, or a minimum expenditure. I for one would love to see such measurement be carried out in such a way that work done in PR could measured alongside work done in other areas of marketing so that we can finally start to see just how PR stacks up against other forms of marketing.

The current thinking on measurement seems to be to let everyone just do their own thing. Let’s face it this isn’t working. Now I know some PR people don’t want measurement because: a) they’ll have to do some work for the fees they charge otherwise they’ll be found out; b) funds applied to measurement will likely be taken out of the money they would otherwise have been given to run programs, host lunches etc.; and c) they argue that PR is to hard to measure accurately anyway, so why bother? My response to these people is if we don’t adopt measurement then we can expect PR to lag disciplines like advertising for many years to come.

I’d love to see publications like PR Week, O’Dwyer’s as well as organizations like the Council of PR Firms take these issues on and really move the needle. Anyone else want to see this happen?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Profit share or risk avoidance?

Today's Wall Street Journal carries a piece on how small advertising agencies are taking a share of their client's revenues for product and services they create the ads for. This will sound familiar to those in the tech agency world who were surrounded by startups in the late 90s all waving stock certificates in return for services. There were of course some significant winners such as Niehaus Ryan Wong that got founder stock in Yahoo!. Sadly it turned out that even that couldn't save the firm and it went under in early 2002 as the full effect of the downturn in the tech sector hit.

If the advertising industry wants to take this path then I wish them luck. I for one hope the PR industry stays well clear of this murky business. While at one level it sounds great we need to remember we are PR people not VCs. These programs are divisive and rarely profitable. They are a cheap way for a client to get marketing support while the agencies shoulder the risk.

I do wonder whether this news piece came from it being a slow news day or because Chris Lawton, that wrote it, has been inundated by firms all saying they are doing this. I truly hope it was a slow news day.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Fingers crossed for Interpublic

Michael Roth, CEO of Interpublic, has 14 days left to file accounts or risk the delisting of the business by the NYSE. This follows a string of accounting scandals and a government probe. Only a few days ago Interpublic had to announce it was firing staff that had presumably been fixing the numbers. The delisting of Interpublic would of course be terrible news for the business and would likely result in the scenario Business Week probed this week - namely a break up of the Group. That could mean brands such as Weber Shandwick, MWW and Golin Harris going on the block. Presumably WPP or Omnicom would snap them up at relatively low prices.

I for one wish this wasn't the case. As a competitor I hardly want these businesses to do well. However, I have to say that no industry wants accounting scandals and government probes into one of its major players. Such things tend to scare away investors that help fund our businesses not to mention people that may be thinking of working in the PR industry. So while having my fingers crossed is unlikely to do much I do rather hope Michael meets his deadline for all our sakes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

BRIC and Brands

A lot has been written about the incredible rate of development of the Chinese and Indian economies. Less has put down on paper concerning Brazil and Russia. In large part this seems sensible as the fundamentals of these two economies are less impressive…at least at this stage. What is clear is that these four countries, which account for over 40% of the world's population, are the economies to watch. What is less clear is what that means for world brands.

Every year Business Week in conjunction with Interbrand produces a list of the top 100 brands in the world by value. Every year, for what seems an age, this list has been topped by Coca Cola, Microsoft, IBM and GE. Indeed the top ten has hardly changed in recent years. Aside from the leaders I already mentioned the likes of Intel, Disney and McDonalds are also permanent fixtures it seems. What some analysis of the top 10 and even the top 100 shows is that America dominates. In the top 10, for example, eight are American. In the top 100 around 60 are from the US of A. These statistics seem pretty constant from the data Interbrand shares. This raises an interesting question: "Is China the next super power or simply the place where Coca Cola et al will employ the most people?"

That's a tough question to answer in part because as the world's top brands expand, they inevitably have to look at ways to reduce cost and complexity AND at how to tap new markets. This naturally draws them to places like China and India where educated work forces at relatively low cost are abundant and where potential new customers exist... by the million. So I guess in short the answer is: forget the “or,” how about “yes and “yes.”

What is very clear is that as the BRIC markets open up and as their educated work forces become middle class these countries will have huge economic power. Does that mean we will see a sudden shift, with a raft of new Chinese, Brazilian, Indian and Russian brands taking the world by storm? I very much doubt it. Toyota and Nokia are the only non-American firms to gain a regular place in the top ten in the last decade and this didn't happen overnight. Instead it seems more likely that Coca Cola, IBM and GE will remain among the world’s top brands.

That may seem a little dull but I believe it will be important legacy for the US. America has become used to being the world economic and military super power. All the statistics say that position is set to change in the next thirty years with China and India overtaking the US thanks in part to the sheer size of their populations. But when the super power torch is handed to one of these countries as it inevitably will be, it will likely be done so with American brands still dominating the world economy. That’s a conundrum the new super powers will have fun figuring out.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What a difference a year makes

Last summer PR companies were still scratching their heads trying to figure out how to deal with the emergence of blogs and wikis as forms of communication. Debates raged on whether separate groups should be formed within agencies or if we should even be forming new types of agencies. A year later may of those debates still continue. Some small firms do exist solely to serve this market but they are mostly one or two person outfits. As yet there are few real consultancies in the space, though I did note earlier this week that Magnet has set itself up to focus on comms like this (they have a broader remit than blogs and wikis it should be said). I am keen to see how this venture does in the next six months. If they do well perhaps we'll see a rush to emulate this approach.

One observation I will make is that a year ago when agencies pitched for new clients blogs were mentioned but only in passing and then not in every case. Today 99% of pitches have a section devoted to blogs and how the prospective clients should deal with them. This is something of a silent revolution. I wonder how far this revolution will have taken us in another twelve months? Will we have blog budgets? Will we have blog tours be as common as press tours?

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Agency rankings

I have been trying to do some research on other PR firms so I can better understand the market we all operate in. Currently such research is a thankless task. It used to be quite easy. Until a few years ago you could look at league tables produced by people like the Council of PR firms and PR Week and it was easy to tell which firms were growing, which geographies were doing well and also what different sectors of the industry were fairing best. Not anymore. Thanks to the moves of the larger PR holding groups such as WPP and Omnicom to consolidate their PR revenues under one line in their annual reports (they use Sarbanes Oxley as the reason) we no longer have any meaningful tables.

Am I the only one that thinks this is bad for our industry? I believe it would benefit the industry to make public the performance of all the significant PR businesses that operate in the industry. Clients and potential staff would benefit by seeing which firms really were growing. Agencies would benefit by being able to see how well they were performing relative to their competitors.

I'll be honest I don't really understand the reasons why WPP et al are withholding their numbers. They say it is because of Sarbanes Oxley but I'm not sure I follow that logic trail. Having trawled through the various key sections of the act such as sections 302, 404 and 409, I can't see any good reason why an agency's revenues should not be reported. Indeed the only real requirement I can see under SOX that is perhaps an issue is that agencies would need to have good internal controls to ensure revenues were accurately being applied to the various subsidiaries. In truth given all agencies I know of, base their bonus programs to some extent on the revenue each agency generates, then unless they have bogus bonus programs, the revenue recognition is very likely recorded with great accuracy.

I'm willing to have someone tell my why SOX really does require WPP et al to report agency fees as one big number instead of breaking them out by agency but until someone does, I'll continue to hold the view that SOX has provided a fig leaf for holding companies to hide behind.

I'm I the only one who'd like to see that fig leaf be removed?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Should we hide the CEO?

Earlier this year I attended a small VC event at which Jim Collins was giving his fantastic presentation on how to build great and enduring businesses. He did a marvelous job of both reminding the CEOs present of the management disciplines they need to adopt if they are to turn their businesses in to truly great companies. Several months have passed since I heard him speak but I was reminded of this speech when I noticed his 'Level 5 Leadership' article is being reprinted in the current HBR. What struck me is that if you look at the current leaders of the major tech players there is some correlation with his central thesis, that great companies have Level 5 leaders but not a complete correlation. Of course this could be a warning bell for the future of those that don't appear to have Level 5 leaders, or it could be that Jim's analysis doesn't really apply to them.

Jim's research suggests that Level 5 leaders have a common set of traits, namely their ability to build enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will. Now I can't profess to know the CEOs of the all the major tech firms to the extent where my judgment is 100% accurate but from what I've learned over the years and from the insight others have given, I'd say that using media exposure as a guide the following people meet the Level 5 standard:

Sam Palmisano - IBM. Sam does work with the media but it's clear that he'd rather talk about his company than himself.
Mark Hurd - HP. Has any business publication managed to profile him with his involvement?
Hector Ruiz - AMD. AMD has been slowly but surely gaining ground on Intel while Hector has stayed firmly below the radar
Bill Gates - Microsoft (I know he's not CEO anymore!). Bill has never loved media attention but accepts its role. As the world's richest man he can't escape being on the cover of magazines from time to time
Steve Ballmer - Microsoft. Steve may be gregarious but he's also not someone to blow his own trumpet.
Paul Otellini - Intel. Since taking over as CEO he has hardly sought out personal publicity

Some may take issue with these choices and I should add that not that all of these are clients. I should add that I've not included CEOs such as Steve Jobs, John Chambers, Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy. I don't know these people but the perception is that these people enjoy the media spotlight which goes against them being so called Level 5 leaders. If my perception is wrong then these guys all definitely count. It is interesting to note that Jim's Level 5 criteria if used when hiring CEOs would have ruled out hiring someone like Carly Fiorina for the HP role.

If you think about this you arrive at something of a paradox. At one level PR people want their CEOs to do their part to raise awareness of the company and its goals. This often means them sharing some of their personal life with the public to add some human interest to an otherwise dull business story. If they do this too much then they become celebrity CEOs and by Jim's definition, this would suggest they are falling short of being Level 5 leaders. So the logical conclusion you arrive at is that we can do all our clients a favor and make sure our CEOs stay out of the media.

Or should we? I'd love to see what other PR people think on this subject?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Second wave

Call it an after shock from the 2000 crash of the tech market if you like but I think we are starting to see another wave of challenges facing the tech PR market. Don't read in to this that my businesses are having problems, thankfully they are not. However, events of the last few months have pushed a few agencies perilously close to the edge and I fully expect to see one or maybe two firms crash out in the next few months. The firms won't be small fry, they'll be businesses that have been around a while and have taken steps to build up internationally. Their demise will be a result of two equal and opposite forces: a drive in one direction to go global while at the same time being driven in the other direction to be more local. These are tough pressures for medium sized businesses to take on at the best of times. The agencies I see being at risk are ones that became too dependent on one or two clients and equally a handful of their staff. If this mix changes even slightly in such businesses, the results are not pretty. Take a look at the big pieces of business in the tech PR market to move and then also at what staff moves have taken place and you might see what I mean. I won't name names right now as I'd actually prefer it if these businesses stay alive but let's put it this way, if they're still alive in six months I'll be shocked.

Good to be back....

Monday, June 06, 2005

Think Different? Think Again

Ask an Apple fan what they think of Intel and they’ll immediately start thinking of phrases that I wouldn’t want my kids to hear. Intel after all has been a part of the establishment in the PC World for decades now. Intel’s Inside program has been the marketing antithesis of Apple’s Think Different. So today’s news that Apple is to dump IBM in favor of Intel is something of a shock. I say ‘something’ rather than, ‘a massive,’ simply because the news was leaked well in advance in a bid to soften the blow to all concerned. That’s said, Apple fans are getting used to these moves after Jobs swallowed his pride an made friends with Microsoft.

A couple of things I do think that are worth noting about this news are firstly that Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO was quoted by AP as saying “We are thrilled to have the world's most innovative personal computer company as a customer.” This quote will clearly annoy Dell and HP and I suspect his PR team are busily trying to reposition this statement. Second, the news seems to have taken the stock prices of Apple, Intel and IBM all lower on a day when stocks are essentially flat. Clearly the markets feel that at this stage the benefits of the switch are hard to see.

I guess the interesting question now is, what should Apple’s new tag line be when it has Intel Inside? “Think a little bit differently to the guy that bought a Dell?”

Friday, May 27, 2005

H1B Visas and Tech Graduates

In recent weeks I've picked up a couple of news items that have troubled me about the long term prospects for tech in the US. The first there was an article by a New York Times columnist that shared concerns about the sudden decline of US Universities in their production of top technology talent. Whereas in the late 90s US Universities were producing most of the valuable tech resources on the planet, today it appears that honor goes to Universities in China. If this news doesn't worry those wishing to see the US retain leadership in tech, then news that applications for H1B visas are well below current limits should create some concern. Combined these news items suggest that not only are other countries now producing the best talent but that talent is not being drawn to work in the US. In the short term that shouldn't be a problem. How about ten years from now?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

PR Week's Agency Excellence Survey

Let me start by saying that any piece with such a grand title sets a high bar for itself. You can guess by that first sentence that I don't feel the piece reached it. Far from it, this piece seems like a great way of handing out medals to the establishment and does little to see where the real excellence in our industry lies. The feature is a good idea in theory but the results should tell you that there's a flaw in the process. The tables show that the larger agencies (which have the most clients) win. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this is the most likely statistical outcome; especially if you determine that you are only going to include those with a large enough sample size. Indeed the article even points out that the sample size is consistent with the agency size. Put another way, this research tells us that the big agencies have lots of clients and the small ones don't. It doesn't really tell us much more, other than they have reasonably happy clients. Indeed all it really says is which of the large agencies has the happiest clients. So if I dislike this article's approach what would I propose instead? I think the first thing I'd do is to work with an organization like the Council of PR and agree on what constitutes excellence. I'd then publish this and get debate going around that definition BEFORE attempts are made to measure people against it. Once there is a broadly agreed standard, I'd then conduct the survey BUT I'd do it in a way where samples were limited so that each agency was given say 20 clients that worked with them (this is where a real researcher will tell you what sample size is needed to draw meaningful conclusions). If you give the larger agencies as many clients as they have they will frankly always come out on top - the law of averages just says so.

I guess I applaud PR Week for taking on this topic but in the next twelve months (assuming they run the same feature next year) we need to come up with a better approach than was taken this year. That's a challenge for the industry not just PR Week.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Hourly rate, retainer or fixed fee? Could they be the key to innovation in PR?

The economics of the PR industry have undergone a great deal of scrutiny in the last few years. The downturn in the economy brought on price wars for key accounts and the reintroduction in some markets of the dreaded “Payment by Results” model. At the same time we’ve seen procurement specialists start to cast an eye on the PR market as a place to look for savings for their bosses.

Of course the problem most procurement departments face when looking at PR is that it’s not like buying paper clips where the products are all the same. Instead they are being asked to evaluate very different commodities that all share the same product name. This is of course part of the reason why they are looking at PR in the first place. Not only do people in procurement want a better price for the consulting fees, they also want service level agreements. Put another way they want value for money. This has long been a tough one for the PR industry to deliver on. For example, a client not being seen in print or on TV can be as valuable at times as the opposite. So how do you measure the value of nothing being said about a client?

Undeterred procurements departments have pressed on. Models such as reverse auctions have started to appear. These in effect are designed to drive down the hourly rates agencies charge their clients. Good clients, if they use such a system, don’t pick the lowest price, instead they pick the best value (some argue that good clients don’t use this system at all but that’s another debate). This means they chose the agency they liked the most in the presentation phase of their selection process provided they also have a competitive price structure. Of course some may argue that this process is increasing the pace of commoditization of PR. That may be true but all we are talking about there is the pace at which we arrive at a destination. It’s like saying make cheap jets accelerated the rate at which the rail industry died in the US. The rail industry, in its current form, was always going to get killed by air travel. I would argue that PR is of course going to get commoditized over time, so whining about the pace at which that happens is frankly… pointless.

So if people are not to whine what should they be do? In my view they should be embracing this change and looking instead at how to offer different services that are not going to get commoditized anytime soon and also at different pricing models. The PR industry has been stuck in a rut on services and pricing for too long. Innovation in this area will open some doors and offer PR a new lease of life in the marketing mix.

Potential areas for innovation include a new look at fixed fee engagements. In this area agencies can focus more on the value of the problem they are solving for their clients and less on the ingredients they have to bring together to generate a solution. Fixed fees are now standard in the advertising world. It seems only logical that the PR world will end up following a similar path in time. Other areas for innovation are in the use of technology to deliver aspects of the service. Here PR firms can and should, take a leaf out of the professional services industries’ book and find ways of automating huge chunks of the process. They should also look at ways in which technology can improve both the client experience but also the quality and effectiveness of the service offered. A good, albeit low level, example here would be the industry starting to work together to make better use of technologies such as wikis for such items as media and analyst databases.

Of course such change will need to be careful introduced if it is to have the right effect. But if PR people can’t message this innovation then we have nobody to blame but ourselves. But I would caution the PR industry not to get defensive because procurement departments have started to get involved. Instead I’d welcome their involvement and get to work on some real innovation that the procurement people won’t be able to touch for many a year to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


In London last week the Editor in Chief of PR Week spoke at the PRCA conference and predicted a rash of acquisitions and mergers in the coming year. At the same time AdMedia Partners has produced its latest survey on prospects for mergers and acquisitions in the marketing agency space. This too points to a significant increase in the number of deals being done. The survey also suggests that more people are interested in entering the PR market.

There is also some news on the performance of the sector. The Council of PR today issued a release that talks about 2004 being “A ‘Bounce Back’ year that saw strong growth in many key indicators of health for the PR profession.” Sadly the release gives no further detail than that but it helps explain the growing interest in mergers and acquisitions.

Essentially the market ought to be wide open to consolidation. Deal terms for private firms are around six times profits. Given most of the major holding companies (Omnicom, WPP etc) are rated far above that by their respective shareholders and the cost of capital remains low then the opportunity for deals has to be significant.

So I guess the next question is who will be bought and who will be buying? We recently saw Incepta and Huntsworth merge. It’s widely expected that with the deal completed, the new company will sell off its non PR businesses to reduce its debt and improve margins. Given it doesn’t ‘need’ to reduce its debt that much this will open the door to them becoming buyers. It may also make them a cleaner target for others to acquire. Another firm that looks ripe for action is Chime. Incepta tried and failed to buy that business before merging with Huntsworth. The commercial logic of such a deal remains and it will be interesting if Martin Sorrell is prepared to let someone do a deal in the coming year (WPP holds a stake in Chime and it’s believed they blocked the deal with Incepta).

The usual suspects will of course be buying. By that I mean WPP and Omnicom. IPG would appear to need a little more time before it starts buying again. The same could be said of Havas. We should also see firms like Waggener Edstrom and Cossette out buying as they look to establish larger international businesses.

As for targets I suspect the market for specialists will continue to be strong. In particular healthcare and financial services agencies will likely get the most offers given it is expected these industry sectors are set to continue to show good growth. I also expect some larger deals to get done. As I mentioned I think the new Huntsworth, if it can rationalize itself, should be an interesting target for someone. I also wonder if someone like Waggener Edstrom may get bought. The founders of that firm don’t need to sell but at some point, their major client Microsoft may encourage them to take the plunge so they can start to integrate more of their comms activities.

It should be an interesting year in the PR world…

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Can Kodak Survive?

It’s interesting to see that Kodak has just hired a former HP exec as CEO. Antonio Perez, takes over from Kodak veteran Daniel Carp. He has perhaps the most fascinating management challenge going. Kodak has been a major part of billions of people’s lives for decades. It is of course in danger of being a piece of pure history unless it can make the successful switch from the old fashioned analog world to the new fangled digital era. The switch is course non-trivial. At a basic level Perez has to get people convinced that instead of buying a small yellow box of film to go inside some expensive piece of camera equipment, they should instead just buy the expensive piece of equipment from Kodak. That would be like Shell stopping selling gas and starting to sell cars. Sure, I trust Shell to produce gasoline that will make my car run but I’m not convinced they can produce a great car. After all it’s a totally different skill set. The challenge is of course even greater than just that. Whereas in the past they sold photographic paper to developers, now they have to convince the public to buy the paper to put in their home printer. What a nightmare. In the good old days they could target the guy at the local camera store and he’d use Kodak paper for his customer’s prints. After all, most customers just want nice prints. If the paper is made by Kodak or Agfa they don’t care. Kodak now needs them to care and keep on caring. This a tough challenge. Of course many customers may buy the Kodak paper because they know the name. But they may also buy paper from a brand like HP or Fuji that they know just as well, especially if its less expensive. As you can see I think Mr. Perez has a very tough challenge ahead. Sadly I’m not that optimistic about his chances given the level of competition he faces. But Kodak is a brand well worth saving, so I truly wish him the best of luck.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Following the money

It's good to know that the tech criminals out there have not been targeting Microsoft simply because they have a grudge against the Redmond power house and that instead they were simply targetting the biggest opportunity to get at people's credit card data etc. This was confirmed today by news that Apple's iTunes is increasingly the target of such crime. Given iTunes and its hardware buddy the iPod have been the hottest pieces of technology in the consumer market in the last year it is no surprise that hackers, phishers and plain old bad guys would turn their attention to this market. Nevertheless I'm sure it will reassure the folk at Microsoft and perhaps even give them a valuable ally in the fight to protect us all from these crimes. After all, while Microsoft's product may have been the target for criminals activities at one level, the real target is of course us the consumer and more importantly our money.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Gates and Visas

Bill Gates recently went on a lobbying visit to Washington and when asked what he'd do if he were in charge, one answer that seems to have surprised some in the media is that he'd advocate removing the limit on H1B visas. Gates views this limit as crazy and in essence said we are capping the number of smart people allowed to work in the US. A few politicians took issue with his view saying that tech jobs are not being created in US right now and thus the cap made sense. Of course what these politicians failed to say was what type of jobs were not being created. While many engineering jobs have found there way to places like India, the largest shift in recent years has been in areas such as customer support and customer service. The people who do these jobs are not the ones Gates is talking about. He wants programmers and software engineers so that the US can maintain its position as world leader in the tech arena. If we keep the cap places like India and China is where these engineers will wind up being employed - and there's a good chance they won't be employed by US companies. As you may tell by my tone, I tend to side with Bill on this one. I think it's crazy that the US limits how many scientists and engineers come in to the US to work. The future of the US will not be determined by call centers, it will be determined by people developing great new products that people want or need to buy. So please, let's focus on the destination not the current economic situation.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Business Week and Blogs

The May 2nd issue has, as I'm sure you've noticed, a cover story on Blogs and how they're going to change business, specifically your business. The article makes some excellent observations as well as some more obvious ones. That said as a piece aimed at the average business person that has yet to really discover the world of blogging it does a good job of getting you at least up to speed with this phenomena. The piece points out how blogs are changing various businesses and gives some examples of how blogs can be applied to a range of comms activities. Not surprisingly perhaps, the blog devotes a lot of space to talking about how blogs will change the media and of course to promoting a new Business Week blog - I would have loved to see this piece look more at how it's really shaping business communication and thus business structures but perhaps that will come as they delve into things deeper. Anyway, if you have not read the piece I would, if only so you can comment on it when your clients ask about the piece.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Recession or Growth Market?

Mixed results from technology companies in recent weeks have people speculating that the tech market is still in or perhaps heading for another recession. A closer examination of the data does of course tell a different story. Indeed close examination can tell you almost any story you want it to. In recent weeks we saw Intel raise guidance on profits and Apple again exceed expectations. We then saw IBM miss its numbers due to weakness in some of its markets in Europe followed by Lexmark that missing its profit forecasts. These contradictory results have been attributed to economic cycles, business management and simple poor forecasting. What’s clear however, in almost all cases is that sales have actually been rising. Even IBM, which has sales that rival the GDP of some countries, saw an increase that would satisfy Alan Greenspan. Wall Street, however, doesn’t care about sales that much. Wall Street cares about margins and of course earnings - and most importantly future earnings. It’s this last point that still seems to be where the tech industry is struggling. The bumpy state of world markets is making it hard for most businesses to project with certainty. The good news is that almost all the trends in tech sales are up. Of course there are sectors that are struggling but the encouraging news is that in general sales are trending in the right direction. The real challenge for the tech industry would however appear to be how to break out of low GDP-like growth and get back to the high growth rates achieved in the late 90s. Companies like Oracle are saying that growth will only come by acquiring market share. That seems rather a defeatist approach but who am I to argue with Larry Ellison. Actually I will argue with him on this point. The tech industry has a great chance to break out of GDP level growth but only if it wants to. I think the drivers of potential change exist. For example the growth in wireless technologies that make infrastructure way simpler for businesses and individuals to deal with. This growth is fuelling the opportunity for millions of people to access technology and technologies previously available only to the likes of the Fortune 500. At the same time the success of On Demand software such as is showing that if you make it easier for people to access the technology they’ll buy it. At this point both of these areas of technology are relatively small when compared to the large traditional enterprise software and hardware markets. But I’d argue that if the industry really does focus on reducing barriers to technology in the same ways these markets have then growth could once again be quite explosive. Look hard at all the small businesses you know and ask if they use all the technology they could. The answer is no in almost all cases. Of course most businesses now own a computer but an alarming percentage of companies still don’t have a meaningful online presence. Add to that the unsophisticated approaches to distribution and purchasing that most small companies use and you see how big the potential opportunity is for just a few areas of the small business market. Getting to this market is of course easier said than done. Barriers such as affordability, accessibility and reliability still need to be adequately addressed but again examples such as the OnDemand software solutions from Siebel and Salesforce show that when you tackle these issues markets open up. So in closing I guess the message I want to leave is one of optimism about the long term opportunities facing the tech industry. This optimism, however, rests on the tech industry’s ability to create new markets by tackling the barriers that exist rather than simply fighting over existing market share.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Can Apple prevail?

The saying goes that you can win the war but not the peace. You only have to look at Iraq to see the truth in that. I have been wondering if Apple may also face a similar fate after it decided to take legal action against the bloggers that revealed some of its recent product news a bit earlier than planned. Apple duly won the first round of the legal battle but of course the case has been appealed. While victorious they have outraged many Apple loyalists, which let's face it isn't a good thing for a brand known for its cult like following. I'm sure Apple's view is that it has to fight for what it believes to be right but the cost of this suit could be a lot greater than the legal fees.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Do blogs need a new style of PR firm?

Blogging has emerged as either the biggest change to the way the media works or just web sites with a bit more personality depending on who you talk to. For the PR profession the challenge is how to deal with this channel. Should agencies and in-house groups have people focused on blogs like HP and Cisco I believe now have? Or should blogging become something embedded into the way everyone does PR? This is of course reminiscent of the challenge the dot com revolution posed. Back in the 90s lots of PR firms set up dot com divisions, or even separate businesses in a bid to win lots of dot com clients. Of course these divisions and businesses were no more than a facade. The people in them knew little more about eCommerce than any other tech PR folk but at the time it was what the market wanted so they did it. The question right now is should the profession do the same thing for blogs? Looking back at the dot com PR era there are some interesting lessons to learn:

1. Most dot com agencies didn't develop specific dot com products. Instead of using the Internet to create new types of PR products most simply adapted traditional products. Ask yourself, can you think of five new ways to do PR because of blogs?
2. The skills of most dot com agencies didn't really change. Instead of hiring a new type of consultant with a new skill set, most agencies simply transferred people to the new agency. This is of course why most of the dot com divisions never really stood out. Again, ask the question, should you hire a different kind of person to focus on blogs?
3. The business models of most dot com agencies didn't change. Sure some agencies took stock instead of cash (most of course now regret that) but that wasn't a new model. A new model would have been a totally new pricing and staffing model. I think you can guess the question that comes here.

What does all this say? It says that unless as agencies we really plan on offering a totally new kind of service for those companies tackling the blogsphere then we shouldn't even consider the option of creating a new division or agency. Instead we should simply add the blogsphere to our audiences. If, however, we are prepared to offer something truly different then I can see every argument for the creation of a new vehicle to offer a new way of communicating.

Friday, March 11, 2005


I've had a few compaints that I don't update my blog enough. Well I do update it at least weekly but for some reason it seems my blog has become stuck in some time warp and to the outside world it has become mired somewhere back in February. I'm told this is probably just engines like Google and Yahoo that fail to crawl through blogs frequently enough. I was also told it could simply be that people have realized my blog isn't worth updating. I was also advised to use pingomatic which I've now done. Whatever the problem is, I'd like people to know that my blog is still alive. I do, of course, promise to make sure nothing interesting appears here.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Valley’s Positive Outlook

Silicon Valley is an odd place. There are places like Portola Valley where there are more patents filed per capita than anywhere else on the planet. There are places like Atherton where house prices are such that even lotto winners can’t buy in to their dream house. There’s Sand Hill road where Venture Capitalists and Investment banks pay a premium not to have any noticeable amenities other than good access to I280. It is home to industry icons including John Chambers, Craig Barrett, Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs. Yet for all the brains and the money that are crammed in to the thin strip of land that goes south from San Francisco to San Jose, the ingredient that appears to be most valuable is (drum role please) optimism.

I first moved to the Valley just as the bubble burst (no I am not to blame). Yet even as house prices dropped and the layoffs mounted talk was of the turn around, the next wave, the new thing. Everyone I spoke to said it was a correction but don’t worry things will sort themselves out. It seems that optimism was often misplaced as the turn around has taken far longer than those conversations suggested. However, that optimism never seemed to wane. Instead it seemed to grow, even though the tech industry every one either worked in or worked around seemed to be struggling.

This wonderful optimism is evident in the series the San Jose Mercury News is writing on life after the bubble burst. While I know some in the Valley hate these pieces (in part because they don’t want reminding of the dark days), I’d recommend them to anyone wanting to get a handle on the Valley. They may of course be a touch self serving and optimistic but hey this is Silicon Valley, what do you expect?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The media industry and the tech industry….same fate?

When I started working in the tech sector in the early 80’s the dinosaurs (as they were known) still roamed the land. These were old style giants of computing such as Unisys, NCR and the old style IBM. These companies did everything. They made their own chips, designed their own hardware and networks; and wrote their own software operating systems and applications. Within five years the old order was being replaced by what the Economist described as the ‘New Computer Industry.’ This industry was made up of specialists. These were smaller more focused businesses like Intel, Microsoft and at the time Novell and Lotus. They each did one thing really well and brought about a revolution in the industry that brought the dinosaurs to their knees. Of course years later the so-called ‘new companies’ are becoming the giants.

I can’t help but see a parallel in the entertainment/media industry. For years we’ve had the giants of the media world. Companies like Disney and AOL Time Warner. In recent years, however, we’ve seen that thanks to technology just about anyone can set up a media business. It’s now common for a low budget movie to at least get nominated for an Oscar and we only have to look at the troubles the TV networks gave faced in recent years to see that this world is a changing. So who are the Microsoft’s and Intel’s of the media world? I don’t know and I wish I did as I’d surely buy their stock!

Monday, February 28, 2005

Is the tech industry doing good PR?

Every day I see some great coverage of one tech company or other. In recent times Apple has received much of the positive press following its launch of the Shuffle and the new iMac mini. Indeed Jobs grinning face on the cover of Fortune was a tremendous piece of PR. Yet for all this great PR, confidence in the tech sector, at least from Wall Street, is still lacking. Looking at the sales of the top tech players such as IBM, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Dell, Oracle, Apple and Cisco, you see some impressive improvements in sales and profits overall. Indeed sales growth of over 10% is the norm. Yet if you chart the stock prices of these players for the last year you see IBM, Microsoft and Oracle all down around 5% on the year, HP down 12% on the year; Intel down 20% and Cisco down 25%. Only Dell and Apple have shown improvements. Dell is up 25% and Apple almost 300%. What does this tell us? Does the market think the rest of the tech industry stinks? Not if you read the analyst reports. Most of the major tech stocks are listed as a buy… yet nobody is clearly buying.

The conclusion you have to draw here is that following the bursting of the dotcom bubble, the market doesn’t trust the tech sector in general. The accepted wisdom seems to be that the industry is still overvalued and rather than going through a wholesale correction, the market is letting the tech stocks gradually slide into to the right price range as their earnings improve. Of course the other way of looking at it is to say the tech industry, which is the most competitive industry on the planet, needs to do better PR not for each company but for the industry itself. The tech industry is huge and will get a heck of a lot bigger in the next decade. Growth rates may not be in the 100% range but it will outgrow the GDP of every developed nation of that I’m sure. With such a healthy long term outlook the market ought to be backing the industry. In the coming months the larger tech companies should, in my view, start to consider doing PR not just for themselves but the industry at large. Perhaps then Wall Street will start to pay some positive attention.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The other side of the pond

This weekend's UK business press broke the news that Incepta (Holding company for the Citigate agencies) and Huntsworth a sizeable UK holding company also in the PR space, are in advanced talks to merge. The merger could create a group with a market cap of around 200m sterling. There is tremendous commercial logic in such a transaction. Both companies have suffered from being 'too small' in the eyes of the UK stock markets and have often been encouraged to 'get big.' It's therefore interesting to see the media and analysts be less than enthusiastic about the proposed deal. It's also puzzling to see the stock prices of both firms go if anything backwards. I guess it shows that when the market gets what it wants, they want even more.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Where will blogs end up?

As the blogging phenomena takes off it's great to see all the tech players salivate as they imagine a vast new piece of Internet real estate being built. Indeed their eyes positively pop at the opportunity of owning land where the user has to do all the construction. All they have to do is figure out how to collect the rent. For the communications pros the interesting challenge is how to work with a community that is pure in thought and is keen to protect the blogsphere from becoming commercial. Of course we all know that if the blogsphere has real commercial value then it will get exploited by big business just like everything else. The challenge is of course how to take advantage of the blogsphere so that we don't destroy its value. Right now the value of the blogsphere is that enables anyone at any time to post commentary or perspective on anything. The discussions such information create and the transparency it promotes for companies and organizations is tremendous. Will this continue? Right now few companies effectively track the blogsphere, thus enabling issues to bubble and for truth to emerge long before an affected company takes action. That will change in the next few months. Tools such as Technorati's will enable all companies to monitor what's said and take action. Over time blogs will find it harder to attack companies, people or organizations. To use the real estate metaphor, as soon as someone sticks up a building they'll get surrounded by skyscrapers thus blocking out the view. Do I expect this to kill blogs? No. Instead Blogs will evolve. Just like the media the blogsphere is starting to replace (for some people at least), the blogsphere has already created its heroes. These heroes are creating a new form of media, where discussion and community are central. Over time the blogsphere will evolve from a world where content is created randomly across a broad and often new playing field, to a place where content is channeled and where people can easily join communities and discussion. Of course some will argue you can do this now. I'd argue that it's still way too hard and that the very nature of the blogsphere today means we're still marking out the territory. Only once the infrastructure is in place will the real blogsphere come to life and boy will that set up some interesting communications challenges.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

What now for HP?

So Carly has gone and HP has a bunch of questions to answer. Will it truly remain one company or will it get carved up in ways that will excite the investment bankers and in the short term Wall Street? Will there be any, albeit subtle shift in strategy as people internally try and position themselves for whomever will become the new head of the business or businesses?

Forbes have published like crazy on this news today as have many other business publications. CNBC even had a special always on HP ticker. Interestingly I overheard lots of chatter on this in a coffee shop in HP's home town, Palo Alto today. Most were shocked by the news. The general feeling seemed to be that Carly had got through the truly tough period. And while HP's stock has hardly performed well under her leadership, neither it seems have any of the other major tech stocks during the same period. In other words, they can't say she's managed Wall Street any worse than anyone else has. If anything the chattering masses of Palo Alto were more concerned about how rudderless this news might make the company while the search for a new CEO went on. One guy put it well when he said: "if you were a big corporate customer weighing a deal between HP and IBM right now, you'd be a fool to go with HP. You have no idea what business they'll be in in six months."

So confusion is going to reign for some time as I gather the board's decision was only reached late yesterday. This has left HP with a stand-in CEO. I'm sure HP will perform its day to day duties just fine but customers, especially big ones, care about the future of a business and with a stand in at the helm, that is going to make a lot of people nervous for some time to come.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The trouble with blogging

It might sound odd to write a piece for a blog that in effect says blogging isn't that great but that's exactly what I need to do. I've recently been spending a lot of time on blogs and on the Internet researching the blogging phenomena. Blogging is of course still in its infancy. Tools to create blogs are now easily available. Tools to find blogs are starting to appear, though they're far from great. Indeed the technology around blogging is not my beef. My beef is with the content and unreliable nature of that content. First there is the frequency issue. Most blogs don't get updated that frequently, mainly because most blogs are written by real people with real lives and they simply don't have time to keep them populated with gripping content. Second, there is the reliability of the content. Blogging's greatest asset is its weakness. There is no policing of the content which means anyone can write pretty much what they want and it's unlikely there'll be any problem even if they've made some huge factual error. If you translated these issues and put them into the traditional publishing world, you'd have chaos. Imagine a magazine that came out when its editor felt like it. Imagine that same magazine never checked its facts and went simply from memory. It frankly wouldn't work and any magazine that tried to run that way would either die a natural death or be litigated out of existence. The only reason this isn't yet a major issue for blogs is that people put out the content for free. Of course if it's free then you can argue you get what you pay for. But of course we all know that we need blogging not to be second rate journalism but liberated journalism. We want it to provide a fresh perspective and to create dynamic new communities (I'm not altogether sure I know what a dynamic new community is btw - but it sounds good). I truly think some blogs are doing this but they are the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps that's the price we have to pay. Perhaps those of us who want to hang out in the blogsphere need to accept that there will be a ton of poor blogs (this one included) and a few great ones. My worry with this situation is that sadly under these circumstances we will only attract the truly dedicated to our world. The rest will take the easy route and sign up for MyYahoo as their trusted source for content, and who'd really blame them.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

State of the Internet

As President Bush stood up to address the nation and those parts of the world that are interested in his views on the State of the American union, my mind quickly turned to other things. Most notably the irritating crashes I had been experiencing a few minutes earlier on a travel web site (which will remain nameless but let's just say it's a big one). I thought then about the first time I really started using the Internet using a dial up connection. I remembered the first iteration of MSN and how.. terrible it was. As my mind drifted away from the President and the incessant clapping, I thought about how I use the Internet today versus even five years ago. Like many, I'm now hooked. My Treo has a terrible web capability - but I still use it. I get depressed when I can't access email and my wife goes insane when instead of using a newspaper I insist on using the Internet to find out what movie's are playing. For birthdays, holidays etc I use the Net to shop for all those people that are miles away so I don't need to think about shipping anything. For travel I wouldn't dream of calling a travel agent unless I was stranded somewhere. Put simply the Net has become a part of my life. I can't put an absolute percentage on it but my best guess is that at least 50% of my work life involves the Internet and about 10% of my private life. That's a lot given my parents spent zero time on the Internet when they were my age (for obvious reasons). So did the technology that is changing society even get a mention in the President's State of the Union speech? I don't think so, but then I did rather switch off for most of it. I do remember thinking that it was probably a good thing that the government doesn't have to run the Internet. If they did it would no doubt be heading for bankruptcy by 2052.

Monday, January 17, 2005


The British among you will have heard this expression. Essentially 'chav' has become a word that even my 72 year old mother uses. As the web site says: 'chav' (slang) - a young person, often without a high level of education, who follows a particular fashion; Chavs usually wear designer labels including the chav favorite 'Burberry', and if they are girls, very short skirts, large hoop earrings and stilettos. Chavs see branded baseball caps as a status symbol and wear them at every opportunity. Normally found hanging around shopping centres.

So what is so interesting about this expression and why should anyone in, or connected to, Silicon Valley care? Well, I was struck when in the UK that Burberry is already having to defend itself against the 'chav' status. It seems young people that had been flocking to own a piece of clothing with Burberry tartan are now unstitching the tartan from items they own and they certainly won't be buying anything new that attaches them to the brand. All of this shows how quickly brands can be built and then destroyed. In this instance this is not some natural disaster, this is someone, somewhere taking the brand down. What if Apple's products were suddenly deemed chav? Would the iPod suddenly be hidden from view and would Creative's Zen replace it? I noticed on one of the sites that people were already identifying certain cell phones as Chav. Of course it could be said that all that's happening here is that the natural order of fashion is taking its course and that Burberry which came (back) onto the scene from nowhere is now about to go back into obscurity (at least in the UK). The shocking aspect is how fast it's happening and the role the Internet is playing. For example there are now dozens of web sites such as the rather down market that even offers suggestions for those looking for chav baby names (or perhaps the chance for people to make sure the name they are about to choose isn't chav).

Of course the whole 'chav' concept has yet to make its way across the Atlantic. But when it does I can just imagine what the consumer marketers will make of it. Until then you can go on buying Burberry... If you really want to.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Will we do things differently this time?

Google has been credited with putting the fire back in to the IPO market again. Indeed the San Jose Mercury News recently described last year as being split in to two eras - BG and AG... Before Google and After Google. Such was the impact of the Google IPO that it has put IPOs and more importantly tech IPOs back on the map. The Merc's article went on to say that Nationally, last year's IPO crop was the largest since 2000, just before the painful bursting of the Internet stock bubble. More than 230 companies in a wide array of industries took the IPO plunge, raising a total of $44.5 billion, typically used to build their businesses, cash out insiders or pay down debt. That was nearly triple 2003's 81 deals, not counting some top-performing deals out of China in 2004, such as job-search company 51Job, online game company Shanda Interactive Entertainment and telecom company China Netcom.

The rush of IPOs is perhaps not that surprising given that the number of startups didn't decline as much as the stock market and the need for capital from public markets didn't vanish. So at some point all that pent up demand had to be fulfilled. Whether this last does of course remain to be seen.

The piece that interests me is whether the resurgence of the IPOs will change the way people deal with benefits such IPOs bring. In the boom years people rode their companies stock to the moon and most then clung on as they hurtled back to earth. I've noted a few people quietly leaving Google lately (A Google employee with 10,000 options priced at $30 will have made a cool $1.6m profit at today's stock price). Not all IPOs have been as succesful as Google's but will the recovery of IPOs mean that this time people are simply going to cash out and get out as soon as some value has been built? I suspect many will do this, especially those who lost their paper millionaire status in the crash. After all when the market was always going up we all knew we'd be mad to sell. When things crashed???

So what will this mean? Well if it does act out as I suggest then we'll see a very unstable market. We'll see people getting out as soon as stocks float and hit any of the projected prices analysts are forecasting. Is there a way around this? Well of course we could all become practical and take a more analytical view of the world and hold on to the stock we are sure will continue to rise.

Now if only we knew for certain which one that was....

2005 is already over

I was unfortunate enough to be ill on Monday. This was not the after effects of too much celebration over the New Year but rather a stomach bug that confined me to my bed for 24 hours. During my vaguely awake moments I surfed through the news channels on TV as my wife and children passed messages under the door - messages like: "are you hungry?" and "hello daddy, are you alive?" I didn't reposnd to any of these in a bid to see if any of them would dare open the door.

During my day-time TV surfing I was relieved to learn that 2005 was essentially all over from a financial perspective. The stock watchers on CNN and CNBC both made confident calls on what would happen to the market overall for the full year and cited many notable economists to back their perspectives. Of course I'm not going to share these predictions for the simple reason that they were total BS. Even the reporter on CNBC giving the predictions admitted that when they did the same piece a year ago they'd made a hash of it. So it occurred to me, why do this piece if you know it's garbage? The answer is of course that we all want to know what will happen in the future and we want someone with authority to tell us so we can tell others. And of course when we meet our friends and say "according to CNN the stock market is going to see a rise of x% this year," we'll sound like we know what we're talking about. But then again, if we'd actually watched the piece we'd know that they used so many caveats in their reports that they could have said the market was going to do anything.

All of which poses a question in my mind. Is the media just trying to fulfill the role we want it to in our lives or does it have a serious agenda? Surely we don't want flakey content just to support interesting issues so we ca sound intelligent to our friends and colleagues? OK, I'm being silly here I know. Of course the media is trying to respond to our wishes, after all it's a business and businesses do want their customers want (most of the time). I just thought I'd raise the flag at the start of a New Year and remind us all that the media could do so much more. Instead of meaningless star gazing and speculation the media could do real analysis of events so we learn. If they did that more then perhaps Donald Trump would be forced to go back to being a businessman instead of a TV personality and instead of the Apprentice we'd get some real TV.

Happy New Year!