Archive for February, 2009

An Evening with Sir Richard Bradbury

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 by Vicki Wray

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I spent an interesting evening last night at a Q&A event with River Island’s CEO Sir Richard Bradbury, organised by Manchester Fashion Network in association with Business Link. 

Having worked his way up from the shop floor of a small menswear retailer in Great Yarmouth to his current position as Chief Executive Officer at one of the UK’s leading fashion retailers, Sir Richard is certainly qualified to advise and educate on the retail industry.

Sir Richard talked very openly about his background at Burtons, his experience with the Chelsea Girl brand and his personal River Island story, before taking questions from the floor.

It was refreshing to hear, in the current climate, that it’s business as usual and the company is staying true to its customers and its own beliefs and strategy.  

While the recession is undoubtedly affecting businesses, River Island isn’t cutting back on investment, just wisely investing its money where it is likely to achieve a greater return.  

Cue less focus on traditional above-the-line advertising and more focus on attendance at events such as Graduate Fashion week; an event at which River Island has been the title sponsor for five consecutive years.  

Sir Richard understands that encouraging and investing in young talent can reap both commercial and creative rewards, and last night suggested that Britain is a nation of creatives, not ‘makers’. 

While strongly believing in nurturing Britain’s creative talent of tomorrow, online is also key for the future of River Island.

Its e-commerce site is a significant part of the business, with some of River Island’s best customers shopping online as well as in store, and the company is keen to evolve this with a new and improved site due to launch later this year.

I’ll be watching with interest to see how 2009 shapes up for River Island and despite the challenging market, expect them to continue serving up trends with the unique River Island style.

Obama’s Flock

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 by Rob Brown

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At the heady summit of social media marketing lies the promise of effective measurement and evaluation.   There is no doubt that twitter is the flavour of the month and a new application called Twittersheep provides a fascinating measurement tool which helps us take a few more steps towards this objective.

I decided to start with the most followed twitter account; that of US president Barack Obama who has close to 300,000 followers.  What Twittersheep does is to make a word cloud from the profiles of all of a user’s followers. Whilst Obama’s following is far from a random sample it is a big number so we might draw some broad conclusions.  Twitter has a high student following. It appears that the male female split is roughly equal with husband and wife evenly weighted in Obama’s cloud.  It also looks like the marketing industry is providing a good proportion of the social networks’ early adopters.

Potentially Twittersheep and similar apps could provide brands that use twitter and build large follower groups with highly valuable insights into both the demographic and psychographic profiles of consumers with an interest in their brand. 

   

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Lawyer Uses Blogosphere To Start A Debate On The Prospects For Tech Start-Ups

Monday, February 16th, 2009 by Mark Hanson

 

A bit of indulgence from me here. One of my clients is a corporate lawyer, advising the tech community, both investors and companies looking for funding. His name is Richard Eaton and he works for Orrick.

He’s started a discussion on the Long Room, the FT’s discussion forum for City-types, re the prospects for tech companies seeking investment to start-up or continue in 2009.

The Long Room is a closed forum i.e. you have to be a member to contribute, so I thought I’d post here to offer an open forum for the new media community to view and/or comment.

RIP Good Times – VC is dead, long live VC

It seems that Sequoia’s words of warning last autumn are staring to be echoed over here:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b6426bf0-f87d-11dd-aae8-000077b07658.html

But does it matter if some of the less successful companies go to the wall now?  We keep being told that failed companies are a badge of honour for entrepreneurs, so now is the time for many to earn their merit badges.  The technology, if it is good, and, crucially, if it is capable of making a profit, will not die, but lots of it will be recycled.  The entrepreneurs will start again. 

The fact is that there are three key elements to the success of any growth company: the technology, the management and the market – what is the point in having technology so bleeding edge cool that is incapable of making money, or is backed by management that would not have looked out of place running a bank?  But companies with good technology, that have good management that is capable of adapting to a changing world will survive: Google was born out of the dot.com crash.  Ten years later it is a mature company.  In this country, Autonomy continues to be one  of the most attractive stocks in the FTSE100, because it has the basics in spades. 

What does this mean for VC funding?  Well without doubt, the market for funding is extremely poor.  Poorer than any of us can remember.  Expect to see VCs pull in their horns, drip feed money to their best companies, merge their ok companies and cut loose the rest.  Yes there will be new funding, but on terms, and at the rates, that hark back to 2002.  In ten years time, the best run companies with the best money making technology will be bigger and stronger.  Will £1bn of government money help?  To secure people’s jobs, it might do.  To build great technology companies, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Arrrrr, did someone say treasure?

Friday, February 13th, 2009 by Marita Upeniece

 

I love travelling and hiking and treasure hunt used to be one of my favourite childhood games, so weirdly enough I only found out about geocaching a few days ago.

If you also missed the ‘in the know’ boat, it’s basically a high-tech treasure hunt – a brilliant combination of the old-fashioned game and new technology, with Internet and social-networking added to the mix. Geocachers hide and seek small trinkets (caches) at different locations all over the world with the help of GPS gadgets and then log clues and photos on the Internet for other gamers.

Some tourism companies and national parks have already tapped into this growing craze. Brecon Beacons National Park, for example, helps visitors set up caches within the park and also offers special Geocoins with unique tracking ID codes to promote the park.

And with over 700,000 registered caches around the world and a huge following online (abundance of support groups on Twitter and Facebook – the largest one has nearly 14,000 members), I can see why.

New technology is developing fast (the iPhone 3G is great for geocaching), and could open up some interesting opportunities for experiential marketing and PR in many areas, not just travel. Imagine finding keys to a new car in a cache, instead of the usual trinkets? Or bringing your local geocachers together to regenerate parks in disadvantaged areas?

Of course, as with anything new there are potential pitfalls, from someone walking into a lamppost or being arrested for shady behaviour (you might look a bit odd walking down the high street with a TomTom) to the more serious issue of a bomb squad carrying out controlled explosion of your branded treasure cache (read ‘suspicious package’).

Still, I have a feeling geocaching’s here to stay – this week’s Time Out London has devoted a whole page to the subject, and I’ll keep my eyes out for the first big branded campaign.

Indy’s claim “we do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot” might be proven wrong after all!

About Marita Upeniece

Account Manager at Staniforth

Listen with Twitter

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 by Jon Clements

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Who would’ve thought it? A micro-blogging site with no apparent use beyond the inane ramblings of an early-adopting minority getting the full analytical treatment in the Daily Telegraph.

Well, Twitter has certainly come of age in the UK; now the seventh most popular social networking site and an online destination more popular than holiday shop, Expedia and personal finance comparison website, Money Supermarket.

But those dismissing Twitter as nothing more than a virtual location for verbally incontinent gasbags and, more recently, popularity-craving celebrities, should think again.

It is also a powerful tool for the world’s consumers to make their voices heard – either evangelising or denigrating a company, product or brand – and finding camaraderie with other Twitterfolk in doing so. It’s old fashioned “word of mouth” working its magic; something that lives beyond the controlling tentacles of marketing and communications departments, yet something they’d like to harness.

Companies across the globe are getting it in the neck from people on Twitter, from a disgruntled United Airlines passenger “tweeting” in real time about a rude flight attendant to a car buying customer in Aberdeen, sounding off about bad customer service at the hands of Skoda.

And the problem is, as Rebecca Lieb at Econsultancy succinctly points out, companies quick to broadcast on social media are not necessarily “listening”.

Yesterday, Staniforth client, Norwich Union, was itself on the receiving end of Twitter ire. The difference is, someone was listening. When we picked up the disgruntled customer’s Twitter posts, he was clearly furious and frustrated at being unable to resolve his query with the insurance company. The fact he was also a journalist just added another potentially damaging dimension to the story.

But making contact with him via Twitter, getting a blow by blow account of his case, getting it passed through to the right people at the company who sorted it out within hours, turned a customer on the warpath to someone sharing the pipe of peace, and letting the wider world know about it – again via Twitter.

Leaving aside the details, this was simply the case of a person, with a problem, wanting to be heard and understood. As with any company whose customers are numbered in the millions, mistakes happen. The way the mistakes are handled distinguishes those who keep or lose their customers. And with social media, it’s being conducted out in the open, whether brands like it or not.

Update: The New York Times does a good introduction to Twitter

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

A little passion goes a long way in PR

Friday, February 6th, 2009 by Jon Clements

It’s rare I last as late as the BBC’s weekly, televised political shouting match,  Question Time. But the great DVD I was watching last night “borked” (teen speak for broken technology, kids), leaving me no option but to tune in.

And I’m glad I did, as the polar differences between being an effective spokesperson for your cause and looking like a weasel were placed in stark relief.

In the red corner, Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation Liberty; and in the blue corner, Geoff Hoon, secretary of state for Transport.

The audience question focused on the Government’s insistence to the High Court that files about a terrorist suspect – who alleges torture by British and American agents – should remain secret because of national security.

Sure, it’s Chakrabarti’s brief to be indignant about these matters, but she was incandescent with rage. When in full flow, stabbing the air with her finger and trying (but failing) not to give Hoon a sideways glance of pure contempt, you wanted to go with her, right back to that High Court, and demand summary justice. Leaving aside the complexities of the case, it was clear who the audience was backing on this one.

Hoon – not the most charismatic of contemporary politicians – had the expression of a man looking into the abyss as he realised what he had to follow. And he made the mistake of describing his adversary’s monologue as “emotional”, which inadvertently emphasised his utter lack of emotion. To the audience, that says: “I can’t get emotional about torture”. Not great, as Obama is calling time on Guantanamo and all its associations with human rights abuses. OK, it’s not Hoon’s ministerial brief, but on Question Time he is the Government, and the image conveyed was icier than a country lane in Cornwall this week.

An unusual addition to the programme’s panel this week was the singer, Will Young. Not sure what the programme makers expected him to add (a degree in politics doesn’t automatically make you a spokesman for a generation), but Guardian blogger, Heidi Stephens, was thoroughly pleased with Will’s contribution. Call me a killjoy, but I’d rather he concentrated on singing. And even then…

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Keeping the fleet on the road

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Jon Clements

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In these tough times for business, the motor trade has had it tougher than most.

Redundancies, plants on extended shutdown, component manufacturers struggling and dealer forecourts desolate as a Spaghetti Western film set.

The Government-backed funding package for the motor industry, announced last week by business secretary, Peter Mandelson, has had a qualified welcome. Those at the front fender end of selling vehicles appeared to like the prospect of greater liquidity in the market (without access to credit, how can dealers close sales?) along with the potential for “scrappage schemes” that are already in gear elsewhere in the EU.

In the fleet motor market, companies are responding to the economic plight by holding on to contracted vehicles longer, according to the results of a Fleet Operator Attitude Survey featured in Fleet News. The survey also suggests businesses intending to negotiate hard with their leasing company on costs and keep a tight rein on fuel expenditure.

Fleet consultant, Colin Tourick, oft quoted by Fleet News, feels that deals will be hard to come by and firms should rather be looking to work with their contract hire provider to nail cost savings. And while he extols the virtues of extending replacement cycles on vehicles, it comes with issues that need to be managed – servicing, tyres and MOTs.

A spokesman for the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association told PR Media Blog: “In the current economic environment many companies are looking to extend their contract hire terms by six months or a year, giving them greater flexibility in uncertain times and saving costs, though these can sometimes be cancelled out by the greater maintenance costs associated with an older vehicle. Modern cars are very reliable so there are unlikely to be any added safety issues involved in extending the life of a fleet car by one year and 20,000 miles. There may be an issue in extending the contract of a heavily used vehicle that has already got well over 100,000 miles on the clock.”

As companies running fleets may be new to the concept of recession and extending contract lives, it provides a great opportunity to leasing companies to be the font of cost saving knowledge to fleet managers and financial directors.

The same can be said of a perennial, non-recessionary, problem: road safety.

This year will see anniversaries for the Corporate Manslaughter and Homicide Act and Road Safety Act, respectively making it easier to prosecute companies for manslaughter following a work-related death and penalising those who cause death while using mobile phones or speeding at the wheel. And now, the Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008 – implemented last month – means even greater exposure to the law for fleet managers failing in their risk managment responsibilities. And with ordinary motorists getting jail sentences, how long will it be before a fleet driver implicates not only himself, but his bosses too?

The signs are not good: the RAC’s most recent Report on Motoring revealed a majority of company car drivers confessing to using mobile phones while driving (73%), driving too close to other motorists (75%) and failing to signal clearly (79%).  RAC called for better training to improve driver behaviour; could this be a place where the leasing community could help companies – already under pressure to keep their businesses afloat – manage their road risk?

The BVRLA seems to think so, commenting: “Government guidelines clearly state that an organisation is responsible for the health and safety of any employee driving a vehicle for work. We would advise anyone managing a business fleet to take this very seriously and many of our members are able to help their customers manage this risk.”

And if compliance with the law isn’t a sufficient incentive for fleets to seek the best advice, they might be swayed by improved fuel efficiency, reduced vehicle damage, downtime and wear and tear.

Looking after both drivers and vehicles is a good advert for a company which takes its duty of care seriously. Reputation is such a critical ingredient for any organisation to protect, it makes no sense to let it perish in the wake of a road accident that could have been prevented.

Update: The latest on uptake of extended vehicle leasing contracts and the problems that come with them.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Politician in admitting mistake shocker

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Jon Clements

His hiring skills may be in question today, but President Barack Obama has passed the most fundamental of PR tests with flying colours.

However, I’d like to warn readers that the following paragraph contains graphic language which may shock and cause people to wonder whether the President is, in fact, a politician at all.

Mr Obama – and I reiterate, a person elected to public office – said: “It was a mistake; I screwed up.”

If you are still there, without the aid of smelling salts, well done. And well done to Obama for understanding that if you have messed up – in this instance with the hiring of Tom Daschle as part of his cabinet – then say it as honestly, clearly and quickly as possible. While your credit rating is high, take the opportunity to show your failings, along with your resolve to put it right. Not only will they forgive you, but it puts you way ahead of the usual slipperiness of tongue that distinguishes elected officials the world over.

Yet again, Obama provides a masterclass. Let’s just hope he gets his HR sharpened up, and spots those references to “tax problems” buried at the bottom of the CV.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

Stephen Fry Got Stuck in a Lift

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009 by Rob Brown

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Last night actor, comedian and social media marvel Stephen Fry got stuck in a lift for nearly an hour.   Not exactly headline news I know, but the unusual aspect was that the world (or at least it’s early adopters) were watching.   Fry is the undisputed celebrity prince of the microblog, so when he was trapped in a lift near the top of Centrepoint late in the evening he decided to tell us all via twitter “Ok. This is now mad. I am stuck in a lift on the 26th floor of Centre Point. Hell’s teeth. We could be here for hours. Arse, poo and widdle”.

Stephen Fry is the third most popular ‘entity’ on twitter with over 100,000 followers, only Obama and CNN Breaking News are more popular. No surprise then that his words were seen by a lot of people.  He used an iPhone to take and then post a picture of the cramped proceedings.  At the height of his confinement almost 1000 people a minute viewed the image.  By breakfast time Fry and four other now familiar faces had been screened over 40,000 times.   As midnight approached, Fry and co were freed and champagne was on offer at the ground floor.  Stephen politely declined and headed home. 

Why is this important? Because celebrities are creating communications channels and brands like Starbucks are not far behind.  100,000 followers may not be huge in broadcast terms but it exceeds the circulation of most regional newspapers and it is early days yet. 

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

Express Cock Up

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009 by Rob Brown

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It seems that someone in the online team at the Express has become just a trifle disillusioned with their quality of journalism.  If you look closely at the URL one the digital types has left little doubt as to how they viewed the story about the dangers of drinking copius quantities of coffee.  “Too much coffee can make you hallucinate and sense dead people say sleep experts….” apparently. 

Whilst the digi-wonks at the Express have changed the URL the original page still exists if you want to see for yourself.  

It reminds me of a possibly apocryphal story that I heard many years ago in the days of hot metal printing presses about a disgruntled typesetter at the Knutsford Guardian. 

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).