Monday, December 17, 2007

463 Thinks they are funny

Tom Galvin, Sean Garrett and Jim Hock of 463 show there may be a career outside public policy waiting for them. Sadly it won't likely pay very much.

The markets only work in the long term

Ask any financial advisor and they'll always tell you to invest in the long term. Well, my guess is that investors in marketing services group, Chime, are hoping that this advice is correct. Chime put out a very positive trading update today, only to see it's share price drop nearly 9%. Lord Bell's quote read: "Our trading performance is very strong, our new business pipeline is very strong and our prospects look very good". Could he have been more positive? My guess is that right now Chime is wishing it hadn't said anything. Now some will argue that it released this on a day when the markets were down but in truth Chime's share price is already off nearly 40% from its peak earlier in the year. What would appear to be the case is that the markets have long memories and they remember what happened during the last recession and they are taking any opportunity they can to get out of media stocks, especially those with an advertising component. Of course we aren't in a recession and Chime is certainly sounding pretty bullish about its prospects. But it would seem that even a business with as much marketing intelligence as Chime can't manage perceptions around its stock price in a climate like this. Indeed the lesson from this would appear to be - say as little as possible and don't expect anyone to hear any of the positive news as they are only listening for bad news.

Monday, December 10, 2007

7 out 10 People say they want measurement

I've been digging around for articles on measurement in PR as I still believe it is an area that needs greater attention. In so doing I came across a paper by Chris Cartwright, MD of Harvard in the UK who carried out a survey on the subject. The paper is pretty good and certainly worth a quick read, though I should warn you it's even drier than this blog. The one thing that really caught my eye was the opening statement: "While 7 out of 10 PR practitioners agree that PR evaluation is an important part of their role..." I had to read this several times because I was stunned. What this says is that 30% or nearly one in three DON'T think measurement is important. Again I'm truly amazed by this. I can understand some people may not want to be measured because they're not doing a good job but to check a survey box that that says you don't think it is important perhaps explains why measurement is still so low on the agenda. I'd love the various PR institutions to take this subject on. I'd love the major brands to make it a top priority. But it would seem that until the three people out of every ten that don't see measurement as important are persuaded to think again then not much will happen.

Here's the link to Chris's article:

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Apple pays price of success

F Secure got some good PR today with the FT running a big piece on the front of its Companies & Markets section on how Apple is increasingly becoming a target for computer hackers. The story which quotes an F Secure security researcher, is based on research the company announced via a press release earlier in the week.

PR aside, the news here is that Apple is no longer immune to the malware that has plagued the PC community for years. It seems the dramatic increase in the number of Macs being sold (sales have roughly doubled from a year ago) has caught the attention of the hackers. If this trend continues, Apple will likely have to ramp up its efforts to promote the secure nature of its architecture and the efforts it takes to make the OS more secure over time. For a brand that is so consumer focused this level of technical message may be awkward to handle. At the end of the day though, it is a problem born out of success and therefore one I assume they'd prefer to have.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

You Tube Score Update

A few months ago I used YouTube as a measurment tool to see how major brands scored. I ran this simple test again today. The results show that most brands are increasing their presence on YouTube at quite a significant rate. Here's the scorecard:

Brand Number of clips then ....Number Now
Disney 224,000 ....275,000
Google 97,000 ....169,000 <-- big jump
Yahoo! 81,100 ....123,000 <-- big jump
Apple 74,200 ....123,000 <-- big jump
Microsoft 44,700 ....69,500
Coca Cola 34,400 ....42,600
Toyota 33,400 ....42000
Nokia 27,700 ....30,900
McDonalds 22,000 ....29,900
GE 15,000 ....26,100 <-- big % jump
WalMart 10,600 ....16,700 <-- big % jump
Starbucks 7,200 ....8,530<--relatively small rise
Intel 6,280 ....10,200 <-- overtook Starbucks

40 under 40

I was pleased to read that our very own Clive Armitage, the CEO at Bite, made the PR Week 40 under 40. The list makes interesting reading. Out of the 40, 23 are from agencies - does this mean you are more likely to be successful in PR at an agency or just that PR Week has a better chance of hearing about you when you work at an agency? The fact that did surprise me in this list was that only 13 are women. In an industry that seems dominated by women that seems to go against the obvious logic. Sadly what it seems to suggest is that while women make up the majority of people in the industry, men still seem to have control of most of the top jobs. Anyway, congratulations to all of you that made the list and especially you Clive.

PS I need to have a word with PR Week about the photo they used as it's about 10 years old!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Dell believes in the Da Vinci code.

So the news is now out that WPP is to create a dedicated agency for advertising, PR etc which is code named Da Vinci for Dell. It's a bold move for the business and one that will likely have its share of successes and failures. The biggest challenge is clearly going to come on the talent front. Perhaps not so much at the beginning when it's all 'new' but down the track when the client is past the honeymoon phase and the real work has begun. It will be then that the new agency will have to sell people on the benefits of only working on one piece of business. Star talent will not want to feel like a contractor that's for sure. What is certain is that this move will be watched by others to see what can be learned.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Flogs and Slogs

This week we introduced the first annual report that is also a blog. I'll be honest when we had the idea a few months ago I was rather surprised nobody had done it before and felt sure that by the time we launched someone would have done it. Well, unless our Google searches are wrong, they didn't and we were the first. I don't think our blog is the greatest blog on the planet but I do think it will be the start of something. I'm pretty sure that in a year or so thousands of companies will be opening up their annual reports in this way. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Today lots of investors go to chat rooms and so on to get their insight. This approach allows them to have a direct access and it allows the company to take part in the debate. Now of course in many parts of the world there are still limits on what a CEO or CFO that is blogging can say but the success of may executive blogs such the one by Sun CEO, Jonathan Schwartz make it clear that people like the idea of an open door policy to communication.

As for my headline to this piece the question is what you call an annual report that is also a blog. The two listed, flog (financial blog) and slog (shareholder blog) are the most common suggestions to date.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Outsourced Agencies - Good or Bad?

One of the major tech companies is currently looking to put all of its marketing with one agency. It has currently asked two of the large agency groups to create an agency that will be dedicated to its business and handle all aspects of marketing from online advertising to research to PR. On paper the tech firm stands to do well out of this as the two agency giants tussle to offer the best value and brains. But to my way of thinking there are several issues that should concern a firm when they go down this path:

1. When you outsource all your marketing to one firm you are effectively signing them up for a VERY long time as switching is going to be even harder. So you had better be really sure you like the key people involved AND that that they will stay around.
2. The savings on the bigger pieces of the pie like advertising will likely be substantial but for the smaller pieces of the puzzle, lower cost will only mean lesser talent.
3. It will be tough to get people to work at this dedicated firm without throwing a lot of money at them (which seems to defeat the aim of the exercise). People who want to work at agencies typically do so because they want broad experience not to effectively work in house by having only one client.
4. One of the advantages of having an agency is that they work on other clients and are continually coming up with new thinking and new opportunities. These would likely dry up in a one agency scenario.
5. Integrated marketing has been around for ages and yet hardly anyone does it. Even those that do tend to have big areas where they make exceptions on the agency front. There has to be a reason why this approach hasn't been adopted by all the major corporations around the world...

Now I know there are some who will say that I'm in no position to talk given we have a business that offer a global solution for clients. I'd argue that we only offer them PR and relevant research. We don't try and offer them the entire solution.

When this tech firm makes its decision there will likely be a lot of speculation that others will follow. My suspicion is that some will watch to see how it works but I doubt many will immediately copy it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

What to do if a recession hits

Listening to the investment community either directly or through organs such as the WSJ it is clear that they believe we could be heading for a recession in the next year. Indeed, I gather the probability of a recession is now at exactly 50%. Having gone through a recession that had no impact on tech PR and one that had a profound effect (the dot com crash), it isn't easy to see how a recession may affect the industry, especially since the roots of this one would seem to lie in a mix of high oil prices and the credit debacle. What is clear to me, however, is that PR needs to get ready for the possibility of a recession. What does this mean:

1. We need to help our clients understand the value of PR versus other disciplines. This means we have to jump on measurement in a big way if it hasn't already happened. The facts on the effectiveness of PR are very persuasive but without them...

2. Anticipate your clients demands - what do you think your client would want to do if sales slowed? who are their biggest customers and how can you help them protect the customer base? What kinds of bad news may they have to deal with and how can you help them through that?

3. Avoid taking on clients that are likely to be hit hard in a recession. I noticed an advert for Net Jets in the WSJ today and my first thought was: "well there's a market that will get awfully hard if there's a recession."

4. Expect clients to consolidate their spend. Right now larger companies tend to spread their PR across firms to access the best skills for the job. If there's a recession they may well look to streamline the number of agencies in a bid to save money. Asking yourself if your firm would likely win or lose from such a change is probably a good thing to do now.

5. Don't take on new office space you won't need. During the last recession a lot of PR firms got into trouble because they had expensive offices they had hoped to grow into. Indeed I know of two fifty person PR businesses that effectively went bust because their leases ran to over $1m. Of course taking expensive office space is a silly move at the best of times but imagine having to lay people off because of a glamorous reception area and you will soon opt for the humbler option.

6. Conserve your cash. People based businesses, like most, are often run on overdrafts but when recessions do hit they can become cash strapped very quickly. Agencies need to make sure they have a good handle on how their cashflow could change if revenues were to fall back. A good CFO will be able to model this quite easily and should be able to guide agency heads.

7. Remember your people. When recessions hit agencies can often focus too much on the client and forget that without good people clients will walk. This doesn't mean that agencies should lavish money on their people that they don't have. What it does mean is that they should think about what makes people stay at a firm apart from money. Career develoment, skills, the working environment, their colleagues - these are things that matter to people in any economic climate so don't lose sight of them when an economy changes.

OK - off the top of my head this is my list. Hopefully it is a list we don't need but in truth some of it is just common sense and should be how we run agencies anyway. Right?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Have the clocks changed?

The clocks change twice a year and these days your computer and your phone automatically make the switch. Well, most of the time they do. My Apple iMac at home and my IBM notebook at the office both seemed to know that this year in the US the clocks don't change 'till next weekend. For some reason however, my cell phone and my work phone have already decided to turn the hands back an hour. This is truly annoying when it comes to my cell phone as it happens to be a Treo on the ATandT network (for some reason btw Blogger won't let me use the 'and' symbol). This means it also carries my calendar. So when I check my calendar on my phone most of my meetings are all in the wrong place. When my phone made the switch on Sunday I assumed it was a Treo problem but my wife's Blackberry, which is also on ATandT, did the same. My assumption is therefore that ATandT goofed up. You would think that by now someone at ATandT would have noticed and corrected it. Unfortunately what seems to have happened is that when they did notice they had a meeting that presumably went like this: "we messed up on the clocks going back Carl." "I know Bob but only by a week." "Oh well, let's just leave it then, most people have watches anyway."

Monday, October 29, 2007

How things change...

My guess is these VCs look super smart right now...

The PE tech stock chasm

Tech has been back for a while now. Tech IPOs and M&A activity has been back at boom levels but contrary to the theory that a high tide rises all boats, it would seem that the improved attitude of Wall Street to the tech industry has benefited some more than others. Of course you would expect that given each company is different but there appears to be a chasm that some tech stocks can't cross in terms of the PE ratios. If you look at the major tech firms such as Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, HP, Intel and Cisco they all have PE ratios that go from 16 to 27. Indeed you can find a LOT of firms in the tech sector with this kind of rating. However, there is another large group that seems to have broken from the pack and have ratings a full twenty points higher, or more! Apple is at 47, Google at 53 and then there's Amazon at a staggering 104 and VM Ware at a head scratching 242. What differentiates these groups would appear to be a mixture of perceived management strength and of course growth potential. The markets clearly believe we will all buy another 'i something' from Apple, search like crazy for things on Google, do our holiday shopping on Amazon and get all our computers to all use VM Ware's virtualization technology (yes that last example doesn't sound terribly exciting I know). So why do they believe Apple and Google are a better bet than IBM and Cisco? Is it because they view the likes of IBM and Cisco as old school tech? I think there is some truth here and it's a challenge for these guys which is why if you look at most of the big tech firms with the lower ratings you will see they have all been reinventing their business models. IBM, Microsoft, Cisco and Intel all have huge investments in manufacturing and development efforts in places such as India and China. These investments help reduce their cost base which should improve their earnings. But these changes also allow them to look at how products get to market. If you make the kinds of changes these businesses have then you get the chance to rethink everything when it comes to the way you design and manufacturer your products. It is almost like starting again in some ways as you have masses of new brains getting involved. My hunch is that in the next few years you will see the fruits of these changes not just in the costs of the company but in innovation levels. Maybe by then the chasm will have narrowed and maybe the likes of Google will have jumped back across. In the meantime the big tech firms on the lower PEs do face a communications challenge as they try and show that the businesses they are running today bear no resemblance to the ones they ran just a few years ago (which is true) AND that this change is very good news indeed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The high price of Tech

When I blogged on the importance of Facebook the other day I have to admit I would have struggled to put a $15Bn valuation on the business. That said, Microsoft has effectively done that today making both the purchase of MySpace by News Corp for $580m and Google's acquisition of YouTube for $1.65Bn look like bargains. It will be fascinating to see what this deal does to the Facebook express train. With this amount of cash they can presumably go global and invest in their platform at a pretty aggressive rate. It will also allow the senior executives to get on with running the company instead of having to go through any rounds of VC funding. That said, it is pretty clear that they'd have had no problem raising money via that route if they'd wanted.

What I find more interesting is that Microsoft took such a small stake. It is pretty clear that they simply wanted to block Google rather than get executive control at this stage. Of course beyond the stock deal there is the ad rights portion. This is where the deal starts to make a lot of sense. The deal effectively gives them the rights to one of the biggest online properties on the planet and for that reason alone you can see why the valuation makes sense.

We have seen Tech valuations rebound quite dramatically this year. We had the VM Ware IPO which has been an amazing success story and now we have this deal. It certainly seems like the investment banks are keen to recoup the losses the banks have made in the mortgage business by some bold tech investments. It will be interesting to see which tech property can outdo these deals. One things for sure - someone will!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gen F

OK I have to confess when Facebook started to emerge as a hot social networking site earlier this year I couldn't help but wonder what all the fuss was about. Even when I had it explained to me that Facebook was really more of a platform for all manner of applications I still tended to smile politely and ignore the commentary. When people sent me a message via Facebook it annoyed me - most of my friends on Facebook have my email address so why don't they just use that I moaned. In the past few weeks though I have been exposed to the generation that made Facebook what it is. This generation doesn't use Facebook, they live it. If they eat something good they share that morsel with their communities, if they get stuck in an airport they write it on their wall and so on. Photos are posted at an alarming pace and YouTube videos are shared like my grandmother used to share sweets (she was very generous btw). Facebook has also become their messaging palace. Put this together and it is clear that for this generation Facebook has become their online home. If I were Google I'd be a bit scared by this. My generation has got used to Google. We go there and we search. We don't do much else with Google though. The Gen Fs do a LOT more with Facebook and they spend hours there. Who's to say they can't create a search engine with Facebook user recommendations helping guide the results of that search? Indeed there really is no Google app they couldn't offer through Facebook. To use an analogy, Facebook could be the equivalent of a major TV Network, making Google a bit like TV Guide. This game is FAR from over but the community around Facebook is growing by the day and it is spending a LOT of its day there. For the oldies like me it may feel like a passing fad but if the Gen F people I've met are anything to go by, Facebook is here to stay and could well be the one to surpass Google as the dominant player on the Internet.

BTW - using my YouTube metric, Facebook is now above Intel and just behind Starbucks in the number of clips.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

AP Style?

US PR people are encouraged to learn to write in AP style. Hopefully that doesn't include the headlines if this AP news story that just appeared is anything to go by:

Being delays first flight for 787

By ELIZABETH M. GILLESPIE, AP Business Writer 8 minutes ago

SEATTLE - Boeing Co. will not begin test flights of its new 787 jetliner until mid-November or mid-December, months later than originally planned, because it's taking longer than anticipated to get the first plane ready, the company said Wednesday.

Monday, August 27, 2007

YouTube provides brand scorecard

The popularity of YouTube is undeniable. This promoted me to see if it could be used to rank major brands. While highly unscientific in some ways and slightly unreliable in others, I used the search engine in YouTube to see which major brands got the most clips when you search by their name.

The results were:

Brand Number of clips
Disney 224,000 <--- I guess they ought to have a lot of content!
Google 97,000 <--- they own YouTube...
Yahoo! 81,100
Apple 74,200
Microsoft 44,700
Coca Cola 34,400
Toyota 33,400
Nokia 27,700
McDonalds 22,000
GE 15,000
WalMart 10,600
Starbucks 7,200
Intel 6,280

Now this research took about 5 minutes and as you can probably tell was based on a list of brand names I pulled form an old Fortune article plus a few names I threw in. It wouldn't be hard to do some more detailed research using the YouTube site and search engine to get a sense of how many clips are appearing each day by brand etc. As it stands I can't find a way of seeing which brand has the most number of clips associated other than by trial and error. Perhaps YouTube could issue a press release with that data?

Anyway, for those people looking to help big brands with their marketing, it seems YouTube provides a pretty simple way to score companies. There are of course some difficulties and these relate largely to the way the search engines work. For example if you put in 'Ford' as a search topic you will get a lot of clips that have nothing to do with Ford Motor Company showing up. Conversely if you put in Ford Motor Company it will only list those clips where people took the trouble to tag the clip with the full name. So YouTube is far from perfect but once again we do at least have another quick and cost effective measurement tool available.

Just for fun I also checked to see what the numbers were like for the bigger PR firms. The results were:

Text 100 312
Edelman 295
Hill & Knowlton 18
BM 8
Weber Shandwick 4
Fleishman Hillard 2
Ketchum 2

As you can see, the PR agencies have some way to go to catch the big brands....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wikipedia Scanner designed to create PR nightmares

Last night on NPR's Future Tense they interviewed, Virgil Griffith, the creator of WikiScanner, a tool that shows who made what edits to entries in Wikipedia. When asked why he created it he said he did it to create PR nightmares for companies that were using wikipedia as a disinformation tool. Indeed on his own blog he says he created the tool to: "To create a fireworks display of public relations disasters for all the world to sit back, and enjoy." This is a man who is clearly annoyed to see that some companies are attempting to hide behind the anymous posting policy on wikipedia and distort entries relating to their business. An example he used in the interview was of soft drinks manufacturers removing mentions that these drinks were harmful to your health. I think it's great that he has created this tool as I think it will help clean up wikipedia. Having lived through the nightmare of getting my own business listed on wikipedia I do worry that it will make people less likely to contribute though. When I listed Next Fifteen it created a host of comments about my independence and therefore the entry's credibility. In truth I never tried to hide my identity and the edits I made were to make sure it was factually accurate and that it met the criteria the 'wiki police', as I call them, were telling me the piece had to meet.

I have to say though that if wikipedia has been so abused by big companies, I am surprised that a 'PR firestorm' or two hasn't already started. Or is it simply that nobody has yet really used the tool in anger? Either way I guess from here on in PROs had better be aware that their entries are being watched. Of course I guess they could always make entries using a computer at an internet cafe given the tool relies on the IP address of the computer making the entry. No PRO is clever enough to do that of course.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What is wrong with books?

The Associateed Press released a AP-Ipsos Poll yesterday that shows that one in four Americans didn't read a single book last year. Nont one. Not even a Harry Potter book. Curiously, book sales are flat despite the fact that the AP-Ipsos Poll suggests that more and more Americans are finding other ways of spending their time reading books. This suggests that the ones that are reading are actually reading more books. Also shown in the poll is a bunch of data that you would likely expect. Out of Women that read they tend to average nine books a year versus men who read a mere five (it doesn't say who reads the more interesting stuff ;). So it would seem that we now need to add the death of the traditional book to the slow painful death of the newspaper...

If you want to read the details of the Poll click the link below. It has all sorts of interesting facts. For example of the books that were read the most popular were the Bible and other religious texts at 64%, whereas business books got a mere 4%.

Clean conscience

Like many people in California I drive to and from work. In truth there is little choice unless you want to embark on a public transport system that would take twice the time and cost pretty much the same amount. I am due to change my car in a few months and have been getting my mind around the idea of buying a Toyota Prius. For the record I can’t say I like these cars very much. I fall in to the group that thinks they are relatively ugly. However, as someone that believes we need to do our part for the environment, a Prius seems the best bet. That said, when you look at the cost of a Prius, which is after all a pretty basic car, you realize that you are paying about a $10,000 premium to drive a car that is more eco friendly. As someone who typically owns a car for about three years that isn’t too bad when spread over the cars life - or is it? I’ve been looking at which, like in the UK, gives you a chance to buy carbon credits for all the nasty emissions your life produces. For example, you can pay about $200 and that will apparently make your home carbon neutral for a year, a similar sum would handle emissions from most people’s annual air travel. When it comes to cars the TerraPass site estimated the cost of clearing out my emissions to be $50 a year for my current vehicle or $30 a year for a Prius. You can see where this is going can’t you? So for $150 I could make up for my car’s emissions during its time in my hands. Put another way if I bought a slightly more attractive car that actually cost less than the Prius but wasn’t as eco friendly I could use the saving to buy a massive amount of carbon credits. Indeed I’d likely have enough credits for all the people that read this article. So what do I do? Should I buy the Prius and feel good about it’s eco stats or get something cheaper and buy each of you a carbon credit?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Cutting the wires

Last month Sun Microsystems announced the beginning of the end for the wire services by saying that they would use the Internet as their primary distribution channel for important news, with the wires carrying the news 15 minutes later. Their first major announcement to be handled this way was their quarterly earnings and it seems to have gone without a hitch. I can only guess how many other Fortune 500 companies are watching to see how this switch goes so that in time they can end the somewhat old fashioned notion of using a wire service to distribute news. In the age of the Internet and RSS feeds it does seem very strange to rely on a wire service but on closer examination there is an argument, albeit a rather flimsy one, to keep the wires in place, at least for now. The argument as I see it is simple - the Internet can be unreliable and isn't necessarily controlled by the person either sending or receiving information. This means messages can get hacked, blocked etc and who is then responsible? Add to this the fact that we know that some companies have CEOs that are prepared to do things that are less than 100% legal (witness the stock option back dating mess) and you realize that it would not be hard to conjure up the situation where company A's earnings release is blocked by company B's hired hackers. So while I for one fully expect the Internet to replace the wire services, I also suspect that the wires will continue to stay in business until such time that such issues can be fully overcome.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Has MySpace died and will the WSJ follow?

Pre Murdoch I heard about MySpace every week if not day in one way or another. Since Murdoch bought it, the military has banned its use by soldiers and Facebook has arrived as the latest 'thing' in social media. This makes we wonder about a couple of things:

1) Are social media sites a bit like search engines were back in the old days - destined to be superseded until somebody invents the Google equivalent?

2) Will Murdoch's acquisition of the WSJ be a good thing? The apparent disappearance of MySpace is of course a PR problem. MySpace is still huge and getting bigger by all counts. It simply doesn't get the buzz that Facebook currently enjoys. While I'd argue that Murdoch still doesn't seem to know what do to with MySpace, it would be hard to argue that he'll have the same challenge with the WSJ. He understands the newspaper business and will presumably leave the news side of the publication well alone. He may well change the right wing tone of the editorials but even that is debatable. He does have a challenge on his hands though. He has bought a publication, that like most other newspapers, is losing readers on a daily basis. Sure, they are acquiring some online readers but the overall picture isn't a good one. At a certain level he will be forced to make some changes at some point, if only to make sure he can continue to generate reasonable returns. I guess the question is how long will he wait before he acts and how will he go about it?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Boeing, Boeing Gone

Boeing recently launched the 787 a totally new type of commercial airliner. It seems to be a huge success with 677 orders already on the books. Despite this rather long waiting list they today placed a full page color ad in the Wall Street Journal on the back of the first section. This seems an odd move to me. Looking at the ad I can't help but feel that the real reason they ran it was that in all the press coverage they got about the launch of the plane, few, if any, mentioned that it was launched on 7/8/07 (get it?). Indeed the whole purpose of the ad seems to be to point out that they launched the plane on that date, which is now 10 days ago. I guess with 677 orders they can afford to waste moeny on ads that simply point out an aspect of their marketing program that is now out of date...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Facebook offers cheap polls

If you want to do a quick and cheap poll to see what 200 people think about something, you can add a tool, imaginatively called Polls to your Facebook page which allows you to ask some multiple choice questions, each of which will get up to 200 responses and each of which will cost up to $51. You can select age groups for your poll and to some degree demographics. It's hardly the most advanced tool in the world but it's pretty good. I just put out the question: "who does the best PR?" offering Cisco, Dell, Apple, Microsoft and Google as possible answers. On the day that Apple is launching the iPhone it is perhaps not surprising that Apple is so far in the lead with 38% of the vote. Dell is currently last with 0%. The tool is hardly perfect - in fact I tried to offer IBM as a potential answer in my poll and it said this answer had too many capitals, so I chose Dell rather than write ibm. Anyway - this maybe useful for PR folk out there doing pitches or when they want to give a client a more calibrated view on a subject.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More bad news for advertising

The FT has just posted this article. Hot on the heels of the ban on billboards in Beijing come these moves in the UK.

Spread the word about the benefits of advertising
By Jamie Whyte
Published: June 26 2007 18:31 Last updated: June 26 2007 18:31
Advertising is unpopular with those concerned for our welfare. They see it as a kind of  coercion, making us “want things we do not really need” and, sometimes, things that are positively bad for us. Ban the ad, they demand.
Modern regulators are happy to oblige them. On Sunday, two moves to tighten up on advertising junk food to children come into force in the UK. Ofcom, the media regulator, introduces new content rules (including banning the use of celebrities), prior to banning advertising of foods high in fat, sugar or salt during television programmes popular with under-16-year-olds next January. The Committee of Advertising Practice, an industry group, is bringing in similar content rules for press, posters and paid-for internet space.

Beijing Bans Billboards

Jason Leow of the WSJ wrote yesterday about the removal of 90+ billboards on China's Golden Avenue in a bid by the city sanitize the city's image. He reports that the crackdown appeared to start on the advertising of luxury homes. Now, he went on, as a part of a massive urban reorganization exercise the advertising ban has been extended across much of Beijing.

This is reminiscent of a similar move in New Delhi a few years ago where thousands of illegal billboards were removed so you could actually see the city. At the time there wasn't actually that much to see but a lot has changed since and presumably the city planners in Beijing expect their city to continue to evolve and would prefer that billboard proliferation not be a part of the outlook.

This of course poses a huge headache for brands that relied on these billboards to get their messages across, however unsubtly. So as the city tries to prevent itself from being one giant Times Square or Piccadilly Circus it will be interesting to see where those ad dollars go that would have promoted all those luxury cars and condos. I suspect the ad agencies will have some ideas on how to spend the money but maybe some PR execs should be putting their thinking caps on too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Apple's $3Bn Battery

Apple's market capitalization increased $3Bn today on the news that it had improved the battery life of its soon to be launched iPhone. They also said the screen would be glass rather than plastic. My assumption is that the latter didn't affect the stock as much as the former. Either way it seems that investors are betting big time on the iPhone and assume that any small improvement will have a big impact on sales. That said, today's rise in Apple's value is stunning. If you assume that all the people who will now buy the iPhone because its battery life is a bit longer buy the more expensive model then to generate $3Bn in additional value in one year you would need to sell an ADDITIONAL 400,000 phones by my calculations (I've made some basic assumptions on how much after tax is earned from each phone sold). That's about a 1000 EXTRA phones (that cost $699) a day just to support today's rise in stock value. Of course it could be that the market is only just getting its head around the fact that Apple is going to be a big player in the phone market alongside Motorola and Nokia. But remind me, how may phones a day do they sell that cost $699?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Microsoft spell checker

Ever noticed that the spell checker in Microsoft Word knows names like IBM, Hewlett Packard, Toshiba and Sony but struggles with Google, Facebook and MySpace? Makes Word look like the parent that can't quite speak like a teenager. Funny though that the spell checker in Google's blogger doesn't question any of the names...

Notable PR blogger seeks job

Seems a notable PR blogger that writes under a nom de plume in the US is looking for a job in Europe. They're presumably hoping to cash in on their social media prowess by helping beef up the skills of the firms over there. There is a challenge with this though. Good PR blogs, like many good industry blogs, are irreverent and tend to poke agencies in the eye when they do or say something stupid. In truth they poke at agencies most of the time, whether or not they've been stupid because that's what make them an interesting read. In other words, the very skill that makes them good at their job as a blogger makes them harder to hire in the industry they watch. After all, if you are agency X and have been roasted by a blog for the way you handled something, are you likely to want to hire the blogger? The answer is going to be no in most cases as quite simply most agencies would struggle to admit that the blogger was 100% correct. That's because they weren't 100% right... 85% maybe but not 100%. This is of course a shame but it's human nature even for thick skinned PR folk. Of course I'm not suggesting that bloggers soften their style so they can get agency jobs. It would be a shame to lose the edge that these blogs have developed just so the poeple writing them find it easier to get a job in PR. Instead it probably calls for these blogs to be prepared to be a little more willing to listen and for the agencies to accept they're not perfect.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Google is hiring for PR

Word on the street is that Google is looking to hire some 70 PR people at its head office in Mountain View in the near future. If true this could have quite an impact on the tech PR industry. At its simplest level it will tighten an already tight labor market and potentially drive up salaries as people try and compete with the search engine giant. Nobody would argue that Google has built an impressive brand in recent years but there are a couple of questions that I’d put out there. First, why is Google doing this now? Is it because they believe they are starting to see sentiment move against them much as it did with Microsoft when they became wildly successful? If so, then being a PR person at Google may be a less enjoyable task than in the last few years where editors have eaten up every news story, no matter how trivial. The second question is what has happened to Google’s stock? Last year the stock soared and then… soared. This year it spent most of January around $500 and has since drifted off to around $475. Could it be the new army of PR people is being brought on board to try and get the stock price moving again by airing more positive stories about the business? It’s worth considering that Google has historically been able to attract some pretty hot talent thanks to its soaring stock price. I wonder if the relatively poor performance this year is starting to hurt these hiring efforts…

eBay as a market research tool

I was reading a blog entry the other day that asked what had happened to the Microsoft Zune, the much touted rival to the iPod. Given the money Microsoft spent promoting the product it is a good question to ask. One way I sought an answer was to look on eBay and see what price these were now selling for. In essence I wanted to see if there was a big market for them and also what had happened to prices. It then occurred to me that eBay in effect offers a great tool for people wanting to track the life cycle of a consumer product. You can pretty easily take off the current pricing of products (highest and lowest) and also the volume available on a daily basis and thus plot the rise and fall of these products over time. This is the sort of data that usually required expensive research. Thanks to eBay it is essentially free if you can get someone to pull the data, or if you create a tool that automatically takes off the data. In the case of the Zune it did sell at a small premium to start with and can now be bought for around $180, which is about a 28% discount. Taking my theory another step I'm pretty sure you could use this kind of data to predict when you need to release a new version of a product in order to prevent the sales price sliding too far. Of course you could also use it to predict when your competitor should be releasing a new product.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Reuters creates a target for PROs

A couple of days ago Reuters made an announcement that appears to have been ignored by the PR industry. Essentially they announced the introduction of technology that would scan news for sentiment on particular companies and issues. If, as a result of these news scans, sentiment went above or below user defined limits, then an automatic trade would be executed. It's another form of algorithmic trading and will likely become a key target for PR consultants wanting to drive the price of a stock up or down. Presumably, if you know how to play the sentiment game, you will in effect be able to force your client's share price up and its competitor's down. A pretty scary thought but just as there are companies that have built a business optimizing sites for search engines, I suspect there will be people optimizing content for this Reuters technology.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Will a weak $ affect our industry?

My guess is that most people in the PR industry don't pay much attention to exchange rates, unless they do financial PR. This isn't intended to be a criticism. In most instances exchange rates don't make much difference to the day to day work carried out in our industry. However, the steady decline of the US dollar in the last few years ought sooner or later to have some impact. From where I sit I can see a few ways a weak dollar could impact agencies:

1. For agencies representing European firms a weak dollar may create an argument for higher spending. This argument is based on the fact that relative to the Euro or Sterling, marketing spends in the US are actually declining in real terms - of course so are sales which is of course the reason most budgets won't change. But for companies wanting to shift perceptions in a big way, now may be a good time for that promotional push in the US.

2. For agencies representing US businesses overseas it could be argued that budgets should also rise. I'll admit here and now that the logic trail is rather one sided but hear me out. Many US businesses are benefiting greatly from a weak dollar by becoming more competitive in overseas markets. Put another way they are deriving a greater percentage of their profits from overseas markets thanks in part to this improved competitiveness and in part to the translation effect of converting say sterling back in to dollars. This may in turn make it more attractive for them to up their marketing spends in these markets to improve sales even further.

3. US agencies looking to sell may find themselves more attractive to European buyers. The US agency market has been a difficult one to crack for many European agency groups. A weak dollar makes US agencies a relatively cheap deal right now - if of course you assume the US economy is going to continue to perform relatively well. Now there a number of UK agency Groups that could be potential buyers, these include: Chime, Huntsworth, Creston and of course Next Fifteen. The larger Groups such as WPP and Publicis are of course also an option. My guess is that the likes of Ad Media Partners are brushing up on their international dialing codes.

So while a weak dollar can be frustrating for someone like me that runs a UK-based PR Group, the news isn't all bad.

Monday, March 26, 2007

YouTube's Next Step?

If like me you occasionally poke around on YouTube for research reasons, you may have noticed an increasing number of videos of things that are for sale. This includes items like cars and houses. This of course makes complete sense as it becomes clear that if you want to buy a big ticket item it might be nice to have more than a few pictures, which is typical on eBay. It would seem logical therefore that Google, as the new owner of YouTube, may just look at adding an eCommerce engine to YouTube to enable people to actually buy the items shown on the videos. YouTube purists may say this will make it even harder to find good content but I suspect the guys in Mountain View could find a solution if the site really does fill up with sale items. Of course, the other alternative is that eBay adds YouTube like features to its site. Watch this space.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Technology PR or Energy PR?

In the last six months we have seen the environment come back on the agenda with a bang. This has caused almost every major company to look at its 'green quotient.' Now for some businesses this simply means making themselves carbon neutral but for others it means changing the products they sell and some cases rethinking the competition. Take companies such as Cisco and Polycom who both offer pretty sophisticated video conferencing solutions. Whereas these systems were at best hokey (and horribly expensive) a few years ago, they are fast becoming usable and affordable, thus causing the airlines to take note. Now if you had said a few years ago that United Airlines biggest competitor would be a technology company people would have patted you on the back and changed the subject. Of course just about every major tech company is now looking at its product set and asking: "can we make it use less energy?" or "will this solution save the customer some energy?" This is changing the very messaging of the major tech firms and many smaller ones, putting energy up near the top of the list. The other big shift has been the shifting interests of the major VCs towards clean tech investments. John Doerr and Vinod Kholsa in particular are making big steps in this direction with huge investments in areas like bio fuels. These people are of course expecting their marketing partners to make the same shift, meaning that PR businesses that were announcing servers and embedded chip controllers a few years ago are now discussing the merits producing ethanol from corn, versus sugar cane or even trees.

Now this could all just be a passing phase and as one senior PR executive said to me yesterday, the media is already getting a little tired of writing about how company x is going green. But what does appear to be clear is that the tech market and energy market are converging. So any self respecting PR executive that is currently making a living from tech PR had better start learning about the dynamics of the energy market, because in one way or another its going to affect them quite significantly in the years ahead.

Didn't we get a new Fed Reserve Chairman?

The Federal Reserve Chairman is Ben Bernanke. Yet it seems the former FRC, Alan Greenspan, seems to have either forgotten he retired, or was never told. In recent weeks he's spoken to the media a great deal with views on the likelihood of the US economy slipping into recession (he's gives it about a 30% chance in the next year) and his thoughts on the collapse in the subprime lending market. His comments are getting the attention of the media and the financial markets. Now of course it could be that he misses being in the spotlight and simply wants to see his picture in the papers, or it could be that the government finds it quite useful to have a credited but unofficial source giving people some guidance. If it's the latter, then he may prove quite an effective spokesperson for the current administration, assuming of course he keeps people feeling that things are going OK. Either way, I'm guessing that the government's PR machine is keeping a close on eye on his pronouncements and is likely ensuring he gets their side of the story.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The next big thing

Spent the last few days at TED, a pretty amazing event that feels a bit like a meal. Presentations from movie producers, software engineers, poets, physicists, Paul Simon and Bill Clinton. The reference to the meal being that some of this has been like 'having to eat your greens,' while other parts have been like being given a great dessert. If there's one theme that has pervaded the event so far it is again that we all need to work on saving the planet. This was very much the message of John Doerr who ended his speech in tears and has been a passing reference by almost all the other speakers. From a communications perspective it's hard not to walk away from this feeling that for brands to succeed they must put greater emphasis on this aspect of their social responsibility if they are to succeed. Of course you may argue that consumers are the ones that will be the judge of that. I'd argue, having been bathed in the 'we have to save the planet' message for a few days by leaders from all walks of life, that this is not a passing fad. equally it's a message that is getting the attention of some pretty important minds. Therefore I'd argue that what we have here is something really important. It's what VCs have been searching for since the dot com bubble burst. It is the next big thing. Kind of funny when you think about it. The next big thing isn't some amazing new algorithm or financial model, it's the thing you've been standing on for most of your life - the planet.

Friday, February 16, 2007

A Long Tale on the Value of Blogging

Excuse the pun but I recently came across a paper co-written by some IBM and Google researchers on the connection between blogging and the sales of products. The paper was written back in 2005 so is not new but it is one of only a few papers I've ever seen that have tried to draw a clear link between the impact of blogs on the sales of companies. The good news for bloggers is that there appears to be a connection. At least there was when it was written. While rather academic it is worth a read.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Google Toy Useful for PR

If you want to know whether Tony Blair has been in the news as much as George Bush, or Apple Computer versus WalMart then Google Trends can give you a pretty quick answer. For many PR execs wanting to know if their client is making as much noise as its rivals this tool will be very helpful - assuming their client is big enough to make a decent amount of noise. I recently saw this tool used to express a client's 'noise level' versus other big companies and while it doesn't allow you to dig very deep it is nevertheless useful. Right now most searches simply track the volume of searches for each item but for some the results also show News Reference Volume. For example, search Google versus YouTube and you will see what I mean. I can only assume that in time Google will make this technology more powerful and useful, much as they have with Google Maps. Watch out media measurement businesses, Google has come to town...

Oh and if you search on PR versus advertising, it looks like PR is slowly catching the old dog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Council of PR survey says industry is booming again... especially for the small agencies

This survey interested me, mostly because the Council is usually a great mouthpiece for the bigger agencies in our industry. Yet the survey they released this week says that the real growth in the US agency business is set to come in the agencies below $4m in billings. These firms, the surveys says, are expecting to grow at nearly 20% this year, whereas average growth (presumably including the small high growth firms) is likely to be around 14%. If we take out the small firms that suggests the bigger firms are probably forecasting growth of around 10% which is still not bad. Now I know the law of big numbers would suggest that larger agencies may find it harder to grow at high rates but I wonder if this survey is telling us another story. In my mind there are several possibilities. First it could be that small agencies are soaking up the demand from all the small clients that big agencies don't want. This would make sense, especially if the economic data suggested it was the small businesses in America that are generating the real economic growth. But that last point doesn't seem entirely plausible given the numbers that have been put out by major energy, retail and tech companies lately. The second possibility is that clients are less excited by the big agencies. This seems possible but would not seems to match our Group's experience where the largest of our firms is seeing a very full new business pipeline. My last theory is that the market is simply very tight and this actually means that only those businesses that have people to do the work can get hired. The large agencies are quite happy to grow at a decent pace and hire accordingly. Smaller agencies are often happy to take the growth when it's there and given the labor laws in the US this means they can hire freely knowing that if things go against them they can relatively easily cut back, especially as smaller firms. Whatever, the real reason is it is great to see the industry so optimistic about its future.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

what a difference this time around for Microsoft

In 1995 I remember being in a cab in New York and all the driver wanted to talk about was Windows 95. That same year I remember two mothers with their babies in a Starbucks discussing the merits of Windows versus the Mac OS. 1995 was a truly remarkable time in technology and a time when Microsoft truly broke through as a household name. It is interesting that twelve years on and with a huge marketing budget the launch of Vista has not quite captured the same level of attention even though there are billions of people who may be affected by it, compared with the mere hundred million or so back in '95. I know a lot of people will say this shows how Windows is no longer the driver of the tech industry. On that front I'd argue that Windows is still very much at the heart of IT. It's just not that new. Indeed Windows is technically nearly 22 years old now. It seems hard to imagine that some University graduates were born after Windows was first launched. If you think about Windows in this way you realize that the comms challenge with Windows is quite unique in technology terms. Indeed the challenge could be likened to that of an aging rock star that is trying to attract a new generation of admirers. It's a tough trick to pull off but some manage it and I for one wouldn't bet against Microsoft even if Vista hasn't got off to the high profile bang it did when it scored its big hit in '95.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

YouTube and Saddam Hussein

I'm a big fan of YouTube. It's a wonderful piece of technology and a great invention. That said I'm very disappointed to see them carrying footage of the hanging of Saddam Hussein. At what point does YouTube grow a backbone? I know people want to see the footage and I know that if YouTube doesn't show it, they'll get it elsewhere but I don't think that should matter. YouTube should be prepared to set a standard. Right now they've sent a message to the world that says: "anything goes." I for one think that's very sad.