Category Archives: Media

Annual report 2.0ish

Tim Dyson, CEO of the Next Fifteen Group and therefore my old boss, points to something that he believes to be a world’s first; a company annual report that is also a blog.  It’s for his own company, of course.  I’ll always take a look at the Next Fifteen annual report as (a) I think, somewhere, I still own some shares (though they’re well underwater, wherever they are) (b) I know for a fact that my mum owns some shares and (c) I’m always keen to see how much Dyson gets paid.

I’m not totally convinced about how innovative the social media annual report is…it’s rather like an online annual report (which the company’s done before) with a bit of blogging literally added onto the side.  I mean, it’s not like you can comment on the chairman’s statement or other specific parts of the annual report itself (now wouldn’t that be cool…”so Tim, why did David Dewhurst get a performance related bonus but you didn’t?  What did he do that was so much better..?”)

But I’m happy to agree with Dyson when he says that more and more companies will be producing their annual reports in this way.  That hand on the front page is a bit odd though…I thought it might be some fancy biometric jobby and now my screen’s covered in sticky hand-prints.

A couple of years ago I had a chat with one of the members of the Egg plc PR team about – as I saw it – a new PR discipline which I rather cunningly called “consumer financial”.  The premise was that, as millions of individuals now own shares and are increasingly involved in managing their own share portfolios, quoted companies needed specific communications activities geared towards this audience.  Sure, they’d need all the standard financial info and regulatory announcements, but the tone and approach would be very different to those communications, say, pushed to institutional investors in the City.  While the numbers clearly matter very much to members of the “consumer financial” audience, they’re also, I believe, more inclined to want to understand the culture and ethics of the company in which they have invested.  I see the Next Fifteen annual report/blog mash-up as fitting right into this category.

As I said though, the blogging bit seems a little added on to me.  There are posts from key directors in the Next Fifteen Group, such as Dyson himself, “Social media – the new big thing in PR” (hmm…) Grant Currie of Inferno (a good mate of mine) and Aedhmar Hynes of Text 100.  They’ve kick-started the conversation by commenting on each other’s posts and roping in a few clients, but you can’t blame them for that (in fact Hynes’ post – about virtual worlds, natch – has two comments, one from Cisco, a client, and the other from a bloke called Tony Hynes.  No relation, I’m presuming…or is it?)

What’ll be interesting for me is how well they manage to keep the blog element of the report alive.  Neither Dyson or Hynes have exactly been the most prolific bloggers, and Currie’s contributions to the Inferno blog have been, ummm, sporadic.

Still, credit to them.  I do think it’s original and more companies will do something similar.  Of course, it would have been really cool if Next Fifteen itself had a digital team as part of the group that could’ve developed the social media annual report concept; I could have seen that leading to a load of new business.  But it doesn’t, so used a company called CGI Squared instead.

It might be the Sunday papers…

st.jpg…but is anybody reading?

Ask anyone who knows something about anything and they’ll tell you that the Sunday Times is influential, that it has significant reach into high-end demographics, that it drives recommendation and purchasing decisions…blah de blah de blah.

Well, it’s a myth.  Like dragons.  And let me slay this one once and for all.

I was featured in the Sunday Times yesterday (as was my family).  Not just a little mention either.  The first two words of the article were my name, the next one my age and the next four my occupation.  It then went on to discuss our life here in France…or at least the bit of it related to the rental of our holiday properties.  And there was a picture.  I was even quoted as using the word “caboodle”.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw someone I knew featured in the Sunday Times, I’d probably give ’em a call.  Or send an email, or a text:  “Saw your ugly mug in the Sunday Papers…nearly hurled my cornflakes…”  That sort of thing.

Twenty-four hours on from the article’s appearance and what have we had?  One call.  From the Mother-in-Law.  And she gets to stay here for free.

My only conclusion – based on an admittedly small research study – is that the Sunday Times exerts no influence whatsoever over its readership.

Actually, that’s not my only conclusion.  Others might be that I have no friends that read the Sunday Times.  Or, more simply, that I have no friends.  But my Facebook profile tells a different story (OK, so this might be a slight flaw in my otherwise rock-solid argument).  I also recognise that the Property section comes fairly well down the Sunday Times hierarchy.  But surely it trumps Travel and Appointments? 

I’m also concluding that the purchase of the Sunday Times is purely a habit.  In the same way that I flick the kettle on upon entering any kitchen, a decent proportion of the UK population searches out a newsagent and buys the Sunday Times every weekend.  Both are largely a waste of energy.

Extrapolating my bitterness argument, I’m also going to conclude that old media is well and truly dead.  Indeed, the only positive result that will come out of the article will be due to this blog post, confident as I am that it has greater reach (and if anyone would like to sign up to my new training course: “How to extend the influence of traditional media coverage through the creative use of social media” than please drop me a note).

I said “caboodle” for Christ’s sake.  Surely that’s good for something?

Facebook application

I had an idea for a Facebook application in the pub last night, but I’m not sure if it already exists.  I suspect not, for possibly obvious reasons.  Perhaps someone might let me know?

It’s really simple.  I’d like there to be an application which tells me which of my friends have spent the most time looking at my Facebook profile.  And perhaps which bits of it they spent most time looking at.  Like pictures.  That’d be interesting. 

Of course, I’d also like to be the only person in the world allowed to load it.  Or I’d like to at least be able to bar selected friends from loading it.  Particularly the lookers.

I’m feeling the back of my hand

“Anymore of your cheek sonny and you’ll feel the back of my hand…” 

Funny little phrase that.  I’d have thought “the front of my clenched fist” might’ve been a better deterrent, but there you go. 

Of course “the back of my hand” has a double meaning.  There’s the corporal punishment for children one as described above and then there’s the one about knowing something (generally a physical location) particularly well.  “I know Soho like the back of my hand”, as someone might utter.

I came across a website called backofmyhand.com earlier today.  It was mentioned at the bottom of a Hotmail I received from a friend (sorry, a “Windows Live Hotmail”).  Not surprising really, as it turns out that it’s a Microsoft owned website – out of the Windows Live team and all based on Virtual Earth (bit of disclosure here – I’ve done a bit of work for Microsoft over the years.  I’m not at the moment though – and I’ve never worked with the Windows Live people).

Actually, I think the fact that it’s a Microsoft site has been its problem, as I can’t imagine it gets any great focus alongside the other Live properties.  The fact that the latest additions to the site seemed to have been made back in March this year seem to endorse the fact.  It’s a shame, because I think it’s a brilliant idea (which probably means it’s being done somewhere else even better…probably based on Google Maps).

Basically, this is how it works.  If you know a particular area like the back of your hand, you can pinpoint it and places of interest on the map with a little description.  It can be as broad or as specific as you like.  So, you might do “brilliant boozers in Barnet” or, equally, “Speed cameras in Stockport” or “Nice things to do on the Isle of Wight”.  You can search the site on location or interest.  It’s cool – and could be really useful if it was populated well.  Problem is, there are only 107 entries on the whole site!  Shame.  I wonder if they’d sell it to me?

worldcup3.jpgHere are another couple of links for the fellow cycling nuts out there.  In a follow-up to my slightly odd Rapha post below and some bike porn surfing this afternoon, I think I might have found my dream bike brand, Witcomb Cycles in Deptford. Witcomb has been custom-making bike frames since 1949 and is now the only bespoke framebuilder left in London.  Just beautiful bikes – check out the lugs on that.

I found the Witcomb website from a link of the site of the Tweed Cycling Club, which is also based in south-east London.  Tweed CC eschews the technology and modernity that has overcome modern road cycling.  The website’s a joy to read – take this for example:

“Why spend a king’s ransom on the latest titanium confection when any weight advantage will be rendered irrelevant by a cheese-and-pickle sandwich and thermos of soup?”

Quite.

Speaking of Guinness

13547guinness-toucan-posters.jpgThere’s a new Guinness TV ad out – always worth a watch.  You can do so here on the Media Guardian website. 

According to the Guardian, it’s the most expensive TV ad Guinness has ever put together.  Surely not?  I reckon that dancing fella cost a pretty penny…

The ad’s OK but not my all-time favourite.  I liked the old bloke swimming across the harbour.

I reckon they’ll be telling us it was done in one take next, like that Honda one (my backside!  Tyres rolling uphill..?)

PS: I started this post 90 minutes ago.  That’s YouTube for you.

I’ll have a Guinness, Peggy…

gordon-ramsay1.jpg…and a glass of Jacob’s Creek for the little lady.

Disturbing news from this week’s Economist.  The EU has recently granted approval to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive which removes many of the current restrictions placed on television product placement (which up to now has been illegal in many European countries).

I can understand the rationale.  Product placement in TV shows isn’t illegal in the US, and the television industry over there earns $1.5 billion a year from it.  And of course, showing US TV shows in Europe – product placement and all – isn’t illegal (though many wish it was).  So you can see why European broadcasters want a piece of the action.

I can’t stand product placement.  Some of the stuff in films has become so blatant (for example that utterly crap bit of Casino Royale where James Bond has to drive the Ford Mondeo) that I find it a real intrusion on the film itself.  That’ll teach me for watching such dross, I suppose.  But the idea of product placement in TV shows does worry me. 

Many of the current style of TV shows would naturally suit themselves to product placement.  In fact, two of the shows I watched last night would suit themselves perfectly.  Sarah Beeny’s property one…”Lovely fixtures and fittings…it’s amazing what IKEA turns out these days…” and Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares…”Nice pan Gordon”…”Yes, it’s one of my own fuckers.  Fucking lovely.  Better than that fucking Tefal shite that Oliver punts.  Mockney twat.”

Doesn’t bode well, does it?

Even worse, as The Economist points out, is the chance that governments might enter the fray.  One of the product placement companies quoted in the article “is in talks with several European government agencies about using television to promote not products, but behaviour.”

The new series of Spooks…(Sir) Harry Pearce: “Adam, there’s a splinter group of renegade Cornishmen loose on the streets of London armed with any number of jumbo pasties.  If we don’t reach them soon, this could lead to an outbreak of obesity the likes of which this country’s never seen.  I want you to get over there now.  Don’t forget to fasten your seatbelt.”

And of course I can’t ever read anything about product placement without thinking about this bit in Wayne’s World.  Genius.

Is that a mirror in your pocket?

billsteve_1.jpgIt’s just I can see myself in your knickers.

One of my favourite chat-up lines.  In theory at least.  I’ve never had the balls to use it.  And of course, I never would. Ahem.

Chat-up lines are designed as conversation starters though, aren’t they?  Make ’em laugh…get them in a conversation…see where it leads.  If they don’t kick off a conversation, they’ve failed.  It’s a bit like social media.  In fact (Swiss Toni voice), “social media is very much like chatting up a beautiful woman…”

See those two fellas above having a conversation?  I wonder what they’re saying?

“It’s like this big!”

“Whoa!  But I’d have to like hold it in my hand like this, open up my mouth real wide…”

Talking about an early iPhone prototype, no doubt.

I don’t suppose those two have to fish around for too long to spark a conversation.  It’s more difficult when you’re a business and you want to strike one up with an individual, or audience, that you don’t know terribly well (and let’s face it, most businesses don’t).

You need a decent conversation starter.  Doing a bit more these days in the area of “conversational marketing”, I’ve been putting some thought into what makes a good conversation starter.  And if you believe that conversations are central to the new world of marketing and communications, pondering on conversation starters is a fantastic way of highlighting the difference between “old” and “new” PR.  Because most of what companies shove out as PR is about as far from kicking off a decent chat as you can get.

Think about the great conversations that you’ve had.  How did they start?  Probably with a brilliant question.  Or a forthright opinion.  Or a piece of honest feedback.  Or a good joke.  Or maybe even a chat-up line.  Great conversation starters are thought-provoking, controversial, funny, divisive, sincere, candid, direct, contentious.  Now how much PR pushed out these days is any of those things?  Not much.  It’s all very bland.

The new world demands that we provoke a reaction – an emotional reaction – because that’s the only way we’ll be able to enter into a conversation.  And let’s not be afraid to provoke both negative and positive reactions (though on balance, obviously, we’d prefer that the positive ones came out on top).  Negative reactions can be very useful…because you very quickly learn what the audience doesn’t like and can change your behaviour accordingly.

Let’s forget about trying to please all of the audience all of the time.  Hell, let’s forget about pleasing all of the audience some of the time, or even some of the audience all of the time.  Pleasing some of the audience some of the time is enough, as long as we listen to those that we’ve pissed off.

I’m getting old…

_41489696_bluepet.jpgI was tutting at the telly earlier.

Mind you, I still maintain it was a highly irresponsible piece of programming.  I caught Blue Peter with the kids this afternoon.  I hadn’t seen it in ages (my kids are a bit young for it) and it’s all gone quite funky.  Though it obviously hasn’t covered itself in glory this year.

Anyway, get this.  Only days when the majority of the kids in the UK are going to find themselves within eyebrow melting distance of a huge pile of flaming wood – probably for the one and only time this year – what does Blue Peter decide to do?  Only have one of its presenters walk barefoot across burning embers!

Any other time of the year, maybe.  But sorry, not this week.  All programme we joined the presenters in the Blue Peter garden where the ember walking experts were preparing the inferno, telling us how they’d prepared Zoe mentally for the challenge ahead.  Then they’d stick a thermometer into the fire to tell us that it was burning at “more than 400 degrees ” and that “human flesh burns at only a hundred and something degrees…”

Only thing was, when we cut back to the final piece, as Zoe was about to take the “walk of warm”, we could see some bloke liberally sprinkling mineral water onto the embers, and though Zoe’s over-excited co-presenter told us that the temperature was”off the scale” we actually saw that it had dropped to about 170 degrees.  Shit, I’ve been on hotter sand (honest – Rhodes, summer of 1981). 

Zoe skipped across untroubled, into the hugely impressed embrace of all and sundry.  Including my little girl.

“Wow, daddy!” she exclaimed, “did you see that?  That girl walked on fire with no shoes. 

“We’re having a bonfire this weekend, aren’t we daddy..?”

Bart Simpson, da Vinci…

hendrix.gifhendrix.gifhendrix.gif…and of course this fella, Jimi Hendrix.  What have they all got in common?

The pic of Hendrix is the clue.  Yep, they are (or were) all left-handed. 

I’m back on Microtrends again, I’m afraid, and I’ve just read a chapter that’s quite close to my heart – the increase in the number of left-handed people.  It’s important to me not because I’m left-handed myself, but because my 5 year old daughter is.  It was very evident from an early age.  When she was literally weeks old you could already see that she was favouring her left hand over her right (when painting landscapes…she’s very advanced).

The book doesn’t touch on what makes one person left-handed and another right-handed (which I’m planning on looking up on t’internet very soon), but rather on the steady increase in left-handed people in society.  Let’s be clear, a lot of the apparent increase is cultural.  It’s much less common these days to force a naturally left-handed child into being right-handed – it’s part of society’s increasing tolerance of many things – but there are also some scientific reasons.  For instance, children born to mothers over 40 are, according to one study, 128% more likely to be left-handed than those born to mothers in their 20s.  And the average age of mums is on the up.

I can tell you from personal experience, you don’t have to watch your daughter struggling with a pair of right-handed scissors for very long to seek out a left-handed pair.  And this is what I love about Microtrends.  If you’re a manufacturer of any product that is designed to be used in one hand, then you’d better think about making a left-handed version pretty soon, and getting it into some mainstream retailers.  Ever tried using a BlackBerry as a leftie?  And that given the company’s co-CEO is left-handed!

Still, it’s nice to know that my little girl is in good company.  Look at this list of lefties…Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Picasso, Michelangelo, Beethoven, John McEnroe, Navratilova, Seinfeld and every US President since Gerald Ford, save peanut-farmer Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush (thank the Lord).

Mind you, I’m ignoring The Boston Strangler (who surely needed to use both hands?) and Jack the Ripper…

Jigsaw pieces

9781846140426h.jpgI had a moment the other day.  And it was one that, perhaps, started to help all this social media/conversational marketing malarkey make a bit more sense.

There have been three pretty high profile (I hesitate to use the word ‘seminal’) texts over recent years that the web 2.0 crowd has latched onto.  The first one was The Cluetrain Manifesto; the second one The Long Tail.  I have to admit, though I’ve read quite a bit about both of them, I’ve never actually read either (so feel free to discount this post as the ramblings of an ill-informed imbecile).  However, the third one in the list – the cover of which is pictured here – is a book that currently resides upon my bedside table – and a terribly good read it is too.  It’s Microtrends, by Mark J. Penn.

If each were taken in isolation, I can understand how they might be dismissed, particularly by large businesses. 

The Cluetrain Manifesto claimed that all markets are conversations.  But hang on a minute…if we’ve got 100,000 customers, how are we supposed to have a proper, valuable, individual conversation with each of them?  And if we try to have a single conversation with all of them, then that’s not really a conversation, is it?  It’ll just be us telling them what we want them to hear, the same as always.  Let’s ignore that.

The Long Tail asserted that the world of online has given consumers infinite choice, and the ability to seek out entirely personalised and specialised products and services…and that for even the most niche product there’s a big enough global market to make it worthwhile.  But just wait a minute.  We’ve got a broad enough product range already (with at least a dozen different options)…I’m not about to start tailoring my product for every single customer.  Forget that one too.

Then along comes Microtrends.  Here’s the book that delivers the research (or at least examples of it) behind the explosion in niches in the global marketplace.  It contains seventy-odd cases where an apparently tiny trend actually earmarks a significant market.  The examples are primarily from the USA…and a microtrend can mean just 1% of the population.  But in the US, that means more that 3 million people.  And if you understand the microtrend, that market can be yours.

Now, think of these three texts together.  Global markets are exploding into millions of little niches (The Long Tail).  With the right research, you can understand the motivations, values and drivers within each of these niches (Microtrends).  And the market niches are small enough – with such a consistent set of values – that you might, just might, be able to have a valuable conversation with them (The Cluetrain Manifesto).  Now it starts to get interesting.

My mum – who’s 62 years old – bought herself an iPod Nano last year.  She’s not especially techie…she’s very happy with email and ecommerce, but she would be able to set up, say, a POP3 email account.  She absolutely loves her Nano though.  Why?  Because she loves her music.  And she’s not only got the Nano, but she’s got a Bose SoundDock in the lounge and anotherone (yes, another one) in the kitchen.  And she raves about it to all her friends.  Now, how difficult would it be for Apple to start a conversation with a market niche of over-60s women with a bit of cash to burn who love their music?  Not very, I’d have thought – and not that expensive either.  iPod Nana anyone?

That’s what we’re talking about.