I'm off cycling again this year. Close followers will know that for the past couple of years a bunch of friends and I have spent a few days each spring cycling a few hundred kilometres for charity. We've become know (at least between ourselves) as Les Veloistes Gentils. It's perhaps the most rewarding thing I've ever been involved in.2008 saw us ride from London to St Emilion. Last year we crossed the Pyrenees, dipping our toes in the Med near Perpignan and plunging in the Atlantic at Biarritz six days later after crossing some of the most famous mountain passes on the way. The full story of that epic little adventure can be found here and pictures here. But 2010's ride looks like it'll be our most challenging to date. At just over 700km it's longer than last year's ride, and we're planning on doing it in five days rather than six…so that's an average of 140km a day. More than that, however, are the spiky bits. The picture above shows the ups and downs of the entire route, which starts in Geneva and ends in Avignon (more detail here). The first big spike – which comes fairly early on day two – is the legendary Tour de France climb to Alpe d'Huez. The second big spike, which comes later the same day (gulp…) is the Col du Galibier (as Wikipedia tells me "often the highest point of the Tour de France"). The spike right at the end, and the reason we're crossing country to finish in Avignon, is the awesome Mont Ventoux, for many cyclists the biggest challenge of them all. It's going to be immense. I'm really pleased that we'll be an even bigger group of riders this year. 10 of us tackled the first year's ride, we had a dozen last year and it looks like we'll have 18 this year. Plenty of apprehension; loads of excitement and the start of quite a bit of hard training right now. We've got a while to get in shape – the ride starts on June 20th – and once again we'll be raising money for charity (which one we'll confirm in the next couple of weeks). If you're a business that would like your name emblazoned across our jerseys in return for a modest amount of cash then I'd love to hear from you. We'll also do our best to give you plenty of publicity for your support.
Reading Jackie Cooper's latest essay I agree with a huge amount of what she says. Almost everything in fact. And why not? Having worked for Edelman in both freelance and permanent roles, I've had a bit of contact with Jackie and have enormous respect for her. As you'd expect, as founder of Jackie Cooper PR she's a true doyenne of the consumer PR world.But the headline (and also the first line in fact) really jars: "Why It's Time for Ad Agencies to Admit Defeat". The PR industry has a real complex about the advertising industry – and it's one which isn't generally reciprocated. I can't quite work out whether is an inferiority or superiority complex…but it's a complex. The industry seems to clutch desperately to anything that might sound the death knell for advertising agencies, presumably so PR can nab all the budget that it believes has always been PR's by right. I don't get it. It often reminds me of the desperation in this…PR's Kevin Keegan to advertising's Alex Ferguson. In the first line of her essay, Jackie says: "When ad agencies are rebranding themselves as "short form content agencies", and media agencies are suddenly sprouting production arms you know the jig is up." Hardly. The world of marketing is changing. Marketing services agencies of all types are having to adapt to a world dominated by conversation, community-building and engaging content: advertising, PR, media planning, direct marketing…it's a challenge for them all. But to think that there aren't very smart people sitting in ad agencies working out how they can remain relevant is crazy. And the changes that Jackie points out above are evidence of that. It's true that many advertising agencies haven't traditional been skilled in creating and delivering on-going consumer engagement campaigns; campaigns that start, develop and manage communities in which brands can participate. Their focus has been on 30-second spots, full-page ads and billboards. But that doesn't mean that they can't learn how to adapt (or, more likely, hire the expertise, as many are currently doing). They have the resources to do so and, more importantly, they often enjoy a direct line into the senior marketing decision-maker within brands and already have their hands on the bulk of the budget. 'All' they need to do is convince the client that they've re-engineered their business and crack on with the job. Unfortunately, despite arguably having an existing set of skills that are ideally suited to an 'engagement' marketing model, PR agencies are (generally) a step away from the marketing director and often pigeonholed as providing a specific set of services at a certain proportion of budget. The barriers to changing that are significant. In reality (or the very near reality) there should be no PR v. advertising discussion. Some PR agencies will thrive, some will fail. Ditto for the ad guys. So can we stop it now?
Well would you believe it. Rory from the Beeb thinks that Boxee – the gadget that allows you to bring the internet to your telly – was the highlight of CES (or at least the best from the Last Gadget Standing bit of CES).He said of Boxee: "…a device that could do what few in the tech industry have managed – make Apple's rival product look distinctively second best. The Boxee Box does something that is going to be a big obsession in 2010 – it takes the internet and puts it in your telly. There are plenty of other ways of getting internet content onto TV but they are either hopelessly complicated or, in the case of Apple TV, much too restricted. The Boxee Box lets you take all sorts of good web video stuff – from YouTube to the BBC iPlayer – and view it on your television using an interface that, in the words of the firm's marketing man Andrew Kippen "even a zebra could use." Plus there's a remote with a full keyboard if you really want to do your e-mail from the TV. He told me afterwards that the device was going to launch at $199 in the US in the first half of the year. But when would it come to Britain?
"We see all the developments that are going on in the UK and the movement of media online in that country makes it easy for Boxee to work there and we're eager to get there and start selling devices soon."
I've been meaning to post this for a while but have only got round to it. I reckon it could a bit of a vote winner for one of the UK political parties in the run up to the election this year. Some context first…I'll try and keep it short.In France – where I own a property – the government is keen to encourage people to make their houses as energy efficient as possible. It does this by giving you money back when you install specific types of energy efficient or environmentally beneficial stuff. The list is long…from wood-burning stoves to double-glazing to heat-exchangers to solar panels. The cash you get back from the government can be up to 40% of the cost. It's a genuine incentive. To add to this incentive, my French bank, Société Générale, will offer a 10-year, interest-free loan to anyone that can demonstrate that they'll use the cash to do two or more energy efficient things to their property. So, get this. We've been talking to Société Générale about a loan to cover the cost of installing wood-burning stoves and double-glazing. Total cost is about 30,000 euros and it seems the loan's not a problem. So an interest-free loan of 30k spread over 10 years. Not bad. Even better, of course, when you consider that we'll be getting a cheque back from the French government for somewhere around 10,000 euros, which we can obviously use for anything we like (including paying off a chunk of the loan). It's bloody brilliant, and I'm already thinking about what else we might be able to do to make the place a bit more green. Which has got to be a good thing, no? From the bank's perspective it's a great way of deepening a customer relationship and enhancing reputation. It also means that people are adding value to properties many of which will probably also be mortgaged by Société Générale, which must reduce the bank's exposure to negative equity in the future. So, here's my UK vote winner. Why doesn't one of the UK political parties commit to making the Royal Bank of Scotland put aside £1 billion to be made available as 10-year interest-free loans to people making energy efficient improvements to their homes? That would be 50,000 loans of £20k, by my reckoning. This would be good for a number of reasons: 1. It would be a decent thing for RBS to do, given the public owns it
'Social TV' (as I'm sort of talking about it) is currently a two-screen affair (at least). Watching the telly with a laptop on your knees or a mobile in your hand. One of the interesting things for me this year will be to see the impact that Internet-enabled TVs have, effectively allowing more people to integrate social media with their TV watching on the same screen.And then this story pops up from CES: Skype will be available on Panasonic and LG internet-connected TVs. Cool.