Archive for September, 2009

Co-op’s video hit a social lesson

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 by Jon Clements

Congratulations or, should I say, “thank you”, to Co-operative Financial Services for doing something simple that works so well in social media.

This video, delivered with endearing amateurism, was done to mark the company’s success in being chosen as Which’s “Financial Service Provider”.

What’s so effective about this, seemingly, throw-away piece of film?

1. Real people being themselves.

2. A thoroughly likeable and memorable way of delivering a simple message that would be difficult to do any other way.

3. It’s fun for a sector not renowed for having a sense of humour (or being allowed to have a sense of humour).

4. It’s daring for a financial services brand to be so frivolous, at a time when financial services are not top of anyone’s Christmas list.

5. It’s neither slick nor corporate, but invites but human interaction, which is the essence of social media after all.

For anyone with marketing or communications in their job title, in a sector whose usual messages might be considered “dry”, this is something to take note of.

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 ''

What future for ITV’s skateboarding ducks?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009 by Linda Isted


As Steve Hewlett so succinctly put it in Media Guardian, “A major British media company with no effective strategy, no chief executive, an underpowered board and restless shareholders prone to interfering, facing the worst advertising recession in living memory, a digital revolution and the likelihood of a change of government. Splendid.”

As ITV reels, Ofcom is putting the finishing touches to its latest recommendations on relaxing the rules on commercial broadcast news in the regions, just a few months after recommending that the walls between regional print and broadcast ownership be torn down. 

In what used to be fondly referred to as Granadaland, you could be forgiven for feeling vaguely sorry for would-be media barons, what with all these exciting new opportunities and barely a sniff of profit anywhere to be found.

 Representing the old guard media owner, Trinity Mirror has pulled production of weeklies back to its Liverpool HQ, closed titles, moved printing to Oldham and laid off journalists and production staff.  It has set up its own TV studio, sees the logic of a shared newsroom with a radio station and says it would consider making a bid if Ofcom chooses the North West for its pilot plans for a de-regulated regional news service.

In the corner of the bright new owners, Ten Alps has been described as “one of the UK’s most exciting media companies” by Wayne Garvie, director of content & production at BBC Worldwide.  Based in Macclesfield, it has already said that it will bid for a Granadaland licence.

But where will the content come from?  Who has enough journalists left to provide a regional news service worthy of the name? 

Perhaps, whisper it soft, the time has finally come to stop treating PR professionals, and particularly those working in the public sector, as the enemy. 

There are enough of us ex-print and broadcast journos working on this side of the fence, hopefully with some news integrity still intact, for there to be a serious reappraisal of what regional broadcast journalism could do. 

Why shouldn’t people rely on independent local broadcast news, backed up by websites and a print title, for all that useful information that used to come in their local paper?  Is it really impossible to devise a format that will allow some funding for local broadcasting to come from local authority budgets for communications and consultation?   

Much as all PRs love the buzz of getting their story onto the local TV news, can we still afford the whole seduction process for public sector content?  Why can’t community broadcasting raise its game and its standards?

Time for some people who love broadcasting to show the accountants what can be done…

Social media – the haters and the lovers

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009 by Jon Clements


Recent blog posts on social media here at PR Media Blog seem to have had people reaching for the boxing gloves.

Whether it be the use of social media in politics or in business, there seems to be sharp divide between those who think it’s the earthly paradise of Shangri-la and those who feel, like in the old days of the witch hunt, it deserves to be strapped in the ducking stool to see if it floats or sinks.

Not wishing to see people fall out about it, I did the conciliatory thing and started an argument on LinkedIn where, naturally, people are known for their reasoned responses.

And it raised some interesting points.   

Simultaneously, another LinkedIn question was asking: “When you run into someone that tells you that Social Media is going to rule the world…what’s your funniest response?”

Social media ruling the world? Be careful what you wish for…

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 ''

Rob Brown on Sarah Brown on Twitter

Monday, September 28th, 2009 by Jon Clements

On Saturday BBC News invited Staniforth managing director and PR Media Blog contributor, Rob Brown to comment on how and why the Prime Minister’s wife, Sarah Brown, has soared to the height of Twitter followers, overtaking even Stephen Fry.

Here’s what he had to say…

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 ''

The Facebook phenomenon

Monday, September 28th, 2009 by Linda Nuttall


While out shopping on the high street the other day, I couldn’t help raise a smile when overhearing a group of 40-something mums, shout to each other “I’ll facebook ya!”

It suddenly occurred to me that social networking, which I’ve always considered the preserve of educated professionals, students and office workers has gone mainstream. Even Coronation St has its own Facebook group, how long will it be before Emily, Rita and Norris swapping a gin ‘n’ tonic down the Rovers for a game of FarmVille on Facebook?       

What started out as a way of keeping in touch with friends – and getting back in contact with old ones – has taken on a whole new remit. In my Facebook experience, I’ve started noticing whole generations of families ‘facebooking’ each other, kids, parents, grandparents and I’m sure I’m not alone in the sudden influx of friend requests from cousins, aunties and uncles. Maybe this is family values re-invented?      

As Twitter celebrates its first entry into the Collins English Dictionary this month, I wonder if the social networking site will ever end up with such a mixed audience as Facebook?

New Labour: from spin to social?

Friday, September 25th, 2009 by Jon Clements

The Labour Party’s final conference before the next General Election – and perhaps its last as Government for the next few years – begins on Monday. How will the party hope to engage with the electorate and stave off what looks now like an inevitable defeat? PR Media Blog spoke to Kerry McCarthy, recently appointed new media campaigns spokeswoman about how the social media sphere is influencing Labour’s communications.

If New Labour will be forever associated with anything in the English language, it will be the phrase “on message” and the word “spin”.

Tight, centralised control of communications and an unfortunate habit of using the ugly face of public relations to manipulate the truth has peppered much of New Labour’s time in power.

And while US congressman, Joe Wilson, recently caused a furore when he shouted “You lie!” at President Obama mid-speech, such an outburst against Tony Blair – if it had happened – following the exposure as fiction of the Iraq “dodgy dossier” would probably have been roundly applauded in the Commons.

This year’s Labour “Smeargate” scandal and the ensuing departure of government advisers, Damien McBride and Derek Draper, raised questions about Labour’s relationship with dirty tricks in the communications department.

But the party’s new media campaigns spokeswoman, Kerry McCarthy – or “Twitter Tsar” – believes that by embracing social media, Labour is making itself both more transparent and accountable.

Speaking of Smeargate, she says: “It was a tricky period. It was wrong, the ideas that were being kicked around – we don’t need to stoop to that level.”

But she also laments the growth of what she describes as “right wing blogs”: “I would be quite depressed if we had need for a Guido Fawkes on our side. The difficulty with blogs like that, and Iain Dale’s, is that they are not elected politicians and they would be held up to certain standards if they were. We haven’t got sites spreading smears about people.” 

Yet the idea that Labour might lean on a Labour blogger who was writing scandalous copy is not the case, says McCarthy: “If it was a keen, young activist we wouldn’t have any control over it. But I don’t think it’s a control freak thing to say we think it’s wrong and unprincipled. We don’t want the Labour Party tarnished with this.”

But how does a party with a history of autocratic control over communications relinquish its rule? “You can’t control it in the way Labour controlled the message in 1997 and afterwards. The news agenda has changed,” she says. “News is so much more rapid and also there is the commentary from a myriad of voices. The issues are all over the blogosphere and Twitter and it would be obvious if politicians are parroting soundbites. If you have got lots of different media outlets there is more chance that truth will come out. Stories get another life online.

“And [social media] is also about how [politicians] respond to people when they are challenged. Getting into debates [online] there is no way you can dictate that from the behind the scenes.”

But at a time when Labour is trailing in the polls and needs clarity about why people should vote for them, isn’t the idea of  MPs having countless, public conversations in social networks counter productive? McCarthy says: “Though politicians might have differing views on things, what comes through are the underlying principles and values.”

She draws a comparion between Labour’s immersion in social media and what she sees as the Tories’ reluctance: “I think it will be difficult for the Tories as it will be the maverick voices and the wilder elements of the party that will stand out”.

Labour is experimenting with different social media activities, including a way of using Twitter to make grass roots activists feel more included in debates at party conferences.

But is there a risk that Labour positioning itself as the “social media party” will detract from the real issues the public care about? “We’ve been careful about this,” says McCarthy, “as there’s nothing worse than politicians trying to be trendy. Authenticity is important and people will see if we are using it as a gimmick.

“Twitter is a two-way thing and it’s done in public, reaching a much wider audience. Politicians can be held more accountable so it is a useful tool.”

But how significant will social media be in helping Labour to victory in 2010? “It’s not the magic bullet that will win the election; it’s a small part of getting across the message but will help in getting activists enthused.” She notes that the need for door step campaigning and getting face-to-face with voters has not gone away.

And how does she juggle social media with the day job? “I’ve got 101 ideas for blog posts but it’s having the time to sit down and do them. With Twitter you can do it in a couple of minutes while you’re in the middle of something else.”

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 ''

Art – the new black?

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Julie Wilson


There’s been much debate around the value of the contemporary art market over recent months, however despite the unstable economic climate, the demand for art remains at a high.

Launched last year, following the publication of the Taste Buds report, which revealed the market for original art is thriving in the North West with the potential to more than double the number of art sales in the region, Buy Art Fair debuted with impact.

Now entering its second year, the consumer art buying event is commanding increased attention with the launch of The Manchester Contemporary, an exclusive showcase of the UK’s most cutting edge contemporary artists chosen by an independent panel of curators.

To be unveiled later this evening with an exclusive performance by John Strutton’s band, Arthur Brick, at The Urbis, Manchester, there is much anticipation surrounding the new contemporary art platform and the interest this will attract.

Certainly the event has been successful in securing some of the most current and exciting galleries of this time.  There will be thirteen in total, including DOMOBAAL, NETTIE HORN, Limoncello, Works/Projects and Man&Eve, and from closer to home Castlefield Gallery and International 3.  A specially commissioned work by internationally acclaimed artist, Nathaniel Mellors, and curated by Ceri Hand, will be at the heart of the new exhibition and is expected to be a big draw amongst avid art enthusiasts.

But who will be buying at this weekend’s events?  With over 500 guests confirmed for tonight’s invitation only preview, including John Squire, Ben Kelly, Kevin Cummins, Mani (Stone Roses) and former-bassist for Joy Division, Peter Hook, the interest in Buy Art Fair and The Manchester Contemporary is unquestionable.

You’d be wrong, however, to think that the events are only for the big spenders.  Last year’s success was, undoubtedly, down to the event organiser’s desire to break down the boundaries to art and provide something for everyone, in other words, not just those with a spare few thousands under the bed.

This year’s event will see prints available from just £50 and everything in between and up to £35,000 – good news for me.

If you’re in the market for a new piece of art or indeed are just looking for an alternative way to spend your weekend, then Buy Art Fair and The Manchester Contemporary are a must-visit.   And if you need any further persuading let the Guardian’s preview convince you…

Social media’s sweet music for veterans

Thursday, September 24th, 2009 by Mark Perry

You could be led to believe that musicians see the internet as an evil source of file sharing which is causing long-term damage to artist and audience alike.

For some – and even those who have been at the very top of the tree – it also provides a new way of linking directly to the audience without the record company as the gatekeeper.

One artist Daryl Hall, one half of Hall and Oates who are the biggest selling male duo of all time, has grasped the potential to move beyond live performance to communicate directly with the audience.

In what he called ‘one of those light bulb moments’ be decided to launch ‘Live from Daryl’s House’. The concept was simple – he would play music with friends trying new songs, more familiar Hall and Oates tracks with twist and unique performances of his fellow musicians’ songs. He has likened it to Later with Jools Holland.

The formula has worked and there have now been 23 episodes which have featured an eclectic mix of established artists including Smokey Robinson, members of The Doors, K.T. Tunstall, Todd Rundgren as well as recent newcomers including Plain White T’s, Parachute and Canadian techno-rockers Chromeo.

It has given his fans new access to Hall being able to see how he works in what he has described as an “opportunity for me to exhibit what it is I do directly to the public without any pre-judgment.”

As Hall said in a recent interview  when asked the question about how the web has changed his relationship with his fans he said: “The internet has taken away the influence of the gatekeepers, It’s offered a more populist, more direct way of communicating with people and I feel more attuned to the way I think and the way I perceive things.”

For other artists the web has enabled them not only to maintain their careers but also build on a solid fan base. One that has really grasped social media in all its forms is the former front man of the 1980s band The Alarm, Mike Peters.

Since the mid-1990s, without a major record deal, he was an early adopter of the medium by using the web and fans forums to maintain and build interest in his solo work. As the channels has grown so he has used them even using iTunes to send regular video reports of his climb up Everest to raise money for his Love Hope and Strength cancer charity.  

What Peters has done is to use social media to give his fans a real feeling of community which has also moved off line. On past tours, those attending gigs have been able to use email to shape that concerts set list; at each concert Peters takes time to meet the fans during an interval even giving impromptu acoustic performances in the middle of the audience; and every January he holds ‘The Gathering’, next year’s will be the 18th, in his native North Wales where 2000 fans gather for a weekend of acoustic and electric concerts by him concerts as well as other Peters/Alarm related events.

What these two examples show that whatever level artists have reached that social media is a way to talk directly to their audience and build a solid community which can maintain a career outside the mainstream record labels.

About Mark Perry

Mark has more than 25 years’ experience in PR and corporate communications. He is a founding director of B2B consultancy Melville PR.

Lib Dem conference – what comms next?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 by Jon Clements


As the Liberal Democrats’ annual party conference in Bournemouth enters its final day, PR Media Blog talks to Mark Pack, the party’s ex-head of innovations and blogger at about the communications challenges facing Westminster’s “Third Party”.

PR Media Blog: What do you see as the Lib Dems’ overarching approach to communications in advance of the next election?

Mark Pack: It’s about offering change by juxtaposing the party with both Labour and the Tories. With the latter it’s about showing how the Lib Dems are different in achieving social justice and championing investment in green industries. Also, it’s Nick Clegg’s first election as party leader which provides a communications opportunity. Equally, it’s also about how we convert into real votes those people who say they’d vote for the Lib Dems if they were sure of them winning.

PRMB: In Vince Cable you have a highly credible spokesperson who can speak convincingly on complex economic issues. But the opinions of “on the ground” activists have been called “fuzzy”. How can you close that communications gap?

MP: The economy has changed so much and so rapidly in the past two years which makes it a lot more difficult to set out your stall and stick to it. At this point it’s only possible to talk about broad principles but as the election nears there will be clear policies that will be understood throughout the party.

PRMB: How can you maintain commitment at grass roots level when the party is unlikely to win or become the principal opposition at the next election?

MP: We need them to understand that there is still a lot they can achieve without having a Liberal Democrat prime minister which means getting involved with local councillors and the devolved assemblies. Issues, such as the Gurkhas, showed how being part of the Lib Dems could give people the chance to have an impact on public policy.

PRMB: Following the Obama experience in the USA, how big a part are digital communications playing for Lib Dem strategy in the run-up to the next election?

MP: The lessons learned from the US elections are about how to energise local campaigning, which sits well with the Lib Dem approach. In real terms, the digital revolution for politics in Britain has been felt in the less exciting and more logistical end operating behind the scenes. In future, people power online in the UK is more likely to be felt in engagement with public policy, such as the success of websites like “They Work for You”, than in electioneering.

Nevertheless, the online sphere is something that’s relied on locally more and more, with local MPs having significant numbers of people on their email lists which can equate to the quantity of votes needed to win in an election. That aside, there’s still a place for knocking on doors and making telephone calls.

PRMB: Nick Clegg responded to David Cameron’s claim that there was “barely a cigarette paper” between his party and the Lib Dems in certain areas by calling him a “con man”. Are Lib Dems’ communications tactics about to get nastier and more personal?

MP: Along with the next election being about judgement and instinct, it can’t avoid also being a personal discussion about leaders and their teams.

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 ''

To pay or not to pay?

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009 by Chris Bull


A recent article and survey on industry bible PR Week’s website exploring how agencies treat work experience placements appears to have caused plenty of debate after it revealed 71% of agencies ‘rarely or never’ pay work experience staff.

This was entirely at odds with a subsequent poll of agency staff in which over half believed that grads should receive remuneration for their work at an agency. Those who support the idea that grads should be unpaid, such as Cake MD Chris Wood, claim that there is no commercial benefit from taking on work experience placements and that the benefits are reaped largely by those on the placements. Others, however, such as Diffusion MD Daljit Bhurji, claim that agencies are simply “exploiting young people desperate to enter the PR industry.”

So who’s telling the truth? There certainly appears to be credence in both arguments. Indeed, a successful work placement at a good agency will, most likely, lead to a job in the industry.  During placements, most agencies offer grads a fantastic insight into the world of PR, while giving them the opportunity to learn from professionals who, in the most part, are happy to take time to teach the basics and impart their knowledge of the PR industry.

In many ways it comes down to the basic tenets of supply and demand. PR is a hugely popular industry amongst those leaving university, yet compared to others is relatively small. The ratio of those seeking employment in PR to jobs available is always going to provide dismaying statistics for those trying to enter the profession. So, it follows that if there is a constant supply of grads, not only willing, but desperate to work for free, what businessman in his right mind would pay?

PR agencies are, after all, businesses and not charities. However, I feel there is a compelling argument as to why this is morally unfair and ultimately damaging for the industry.  I say this because many agencies expect grads to work for months on end without any pay, and with no promise of a job at the end. In the PR Week survey, two agencies commented that four months without pay would be acceptable. But how many grads are actually in a financial position to support themselves for this kind of period without pay?

The lucky few will have parents or other family members who are happy to support them throughout this period. Yet there are many whose parents simply cannot afford or – after 20-odd years don’t want – to pay several thousand pounds to support their children for months on end. This means that, every year, grads who potentially have enthusiasm, skill and a great work ethic to offer find the PR industry to be, simply, a closed door. Ultimately, this leaves PR in danger of becoming considered an elitist industry that is hard to break into without the help of plenty of cash or a spot of nepotism.

And if the industry cannot look after its own reputation…

About Chris Bull

Account Exec for Staniforth PR, based in the TBWA\ Building in Whitfield Street, London. Areas of interest include politics, the car industry and sport.