Archive for November, 2009

News matures into a finer vintage

Monday, November 30th, 2009 by Jon Clements

If Jesus turned water into wine, is it too much to ask for newspapers to turn soda (US: fizzy, sugared drinks) into the same stuff?

The analogy is the work of Umair Haque, director of the Havas Media Lab, and recent guest on a Harvard Business Ideacast. In this, he talks about how the future of the news media hangs on turning what he depicts as their homogeneous product (the “soda”) into something of greater quality (the “wine”). It also, he says, depends on news producers focusing more on people and what matters to them than the product itself.

Maybe this is a uniquely US perspective, as the various news sources that make up UK media – in one way or another – have worked to recognise their audience and generate the material it wants, whether that’s endless X-Factor coverage or sprawling, in-depth features on climate change. 

Sure, there have been price wars between newspapers, but that doesn’t stop the Sun, Mail, Guardian and Telegraph knowing what brings back their readers. In the case of the Telegraph, for one, I understand that page views online – an unequivocal measure of reader interest – are now used to influence the content of the printed edition.

The reinvention of news for the web is covered at length by Julio Romo, in his latest post following a recent CIPR Greater London Group meeting which heard from Nic Newman, the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Controller for Journalism and Digital Distribution and Laura Oliver, Editor for Journalism.co.uk.

As Newman is quoted as saying, journalism is undergoing a “quiet revolution” with the advent of social media and user generated content; this, in turn, has meant focusing less on breaking the news than on “verifying and curating” it.

Maybe this is the “wine” referred to by Haque.

Bottoms up!

pic: Jeffrey Barnard, former columnist at The Spectator and actor, Peter O’Toole, pose in The Coach and Horses pub, Soho.

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 ''

Does heritage matter in marketing?

Friday, November 27th, 2009 by Jon Clements

At the risk of turning this into booze week on PR Media Blog, it’s hard to find a better example of “heritage marketing” than Jack Daniels.

Its sepia-photo-laden advertising, depicting a tradition of distilling going back more than a century imbues the brand with an authenticity and sense of quality that has stood the test of time. And, importantly for the brand maintaining its backstory, its founder was a real person called Jack Daniel. So far, so good, if you conveniently set aside its reputation as rock stars’ ruin for a moment.

But how crucial for a brand is having a genuine history? Or, conversely, how damaging is a hokey heritage?

recent BBC story , investigated by its consumer affairs programme, “You and Yours”, revealed that the US fashion brand, Hollister – currently expanding its UK presence and which claims a history stretching back to 1922 – was in fact founded only in the Noughties.

If not suspicious enough, add to that a character called John Hollister – “adventurous traveller” and supposed company founder – branded “fictitious” by the BBC and a curt comment from the company itself when approached to explain its claims: “Due to our policies regarding press, we choose not to provide any comment on your questions.”

Despite the stubborn secrecy of the company and the aura of exposé in the BBC’s story, its vox pop of “teenage shoppers” found they really didn’t give a damn about Hollister’s historical fabrication.

Friend of PR Media Blog and marketing consultant at Goldsbrough Consulting, Matthew Goldsbrough, is phlegmatic about the issue: “When establishing a brand, it’s more about what it does and what it delivers rather than whether you can take it back through a lineage. Do you really care if there was, or wasn’t a “Mr.Volvo”?

He adds: “Any brand that underestimates the buyer is a fool. But I don’t think that a fake history matters greatly as the brand is not making a promise which it then breaks. At the younger end of the customer spectrum, people are much less reliant on complete provenance with a brand. Overall, the real test is ‘does it deliver?'”

Orson Welles once put together a film about the nature of authenticity called “F for Fake”. But for the modern shopper, is it more “C for couldn’t care less”?

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 ''

Retro ads ease recessionary pain?

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 by Chris Bull

Retro is big, there is certainly no denying that. Whether it is aviator sunglasses, leg warmers or a Casio digital watch, you don’t need Gok-Wan to tell you that the latest fashion was probably the latest fashion at some point in the past as well. This trend has also moved to food with the return of the likes of Monster Munch and Wispa.

Now ad execs have caught the bug with recent examples including Persil, Milky Way chocolate bars and Toys ‘R’ Us. It seems that in adland, retro is now, but why the resurgence?

Stephen Foley talked of this trend on American television earlier in the year on the Independent’s website. With regards to a McDonalds’ retro ad campaign, he comments: ‘It is meant to raise a familiar smile, a warm glow inside, the perfect antidote to the sub-prime nightmares and job-shearing chaos of the modern world’.

In the article Barnardo Revello, an editor at New York based post-production house Cosmo Street, comments: ‘It normally happens in times of economic trouble, when people reach for unifying values and marketers adopt an attitude of pulling together…when the economic difficulties give way to something better, then this style will no doubt give way to something with a bit more energy.”

Rune Gustafson, Chief Exec of Interbrand endorses these views and believes they hold just as true on this side of the pond: “In changing times people fall back on the brands they consumed earlier in their lives, when times were less uncertain. You could argue that the Seventies were hardly a golden age of security. But if you remember feeling secure and protected within the family from what was going on in the world, the past will certainly seem easier, more secure, safe. There’s certainly an element of escapism in all of this.”

So rather than there simply being a chronic lack of cash to develop new advertising creatives, ad execs are pandering to consumers desire to take comfort in something that is certain – the past. It is also rather convenient that retro ads cost nothing develop.

But in an age when the likes of Honda have been concentrating on producing technically astonishing and painfully cool ad campaigns, it is nice that something as simple as a cartoon with a catchy jingle can generate just as much buzz.

Of course there is a saturation point where people will begin to tire of the recycling of classic adverts, but until that point, we can all enjoy a bit of nostalgia and who knows, perhaps in 20 years we will see a Honda ad from the ‘noughties’ and revel in its simplicity and purity of approach.

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.

Social media on tap

Monday, November 23rd, 2009 by Kirsten Mortensen

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Today’s guest blog comes from Kirsten Mortensen, a marketing communications strategist based in Rochester, N.Y. who – in the cause of investigating social media best practice – has found herself in the pub…

Many businesses today are wondering whether to invest in social media.

Others are pretty sure they need social media-but haven’t quite figured out how to do it.

And then you have people like Joe McBane, who have taken to social media so naturally it’s become a seamless extension of his business.

Granted, McBane is in the hospitality industry-and if any industry is ready-made for social media, this would be it.

McBane owns the Tap & Mallet, a two-year-old pub in Rochester, New York.

Rochester, if you’re unfamiliar, is a community in the United States “rust belt” best known as the hometown of the iconic film company, Eastman Kodak. McBane himself, however, isn’t a Rochester native. He’s a Sheffield, UK transplant who first put down roots as bar manager at The Old Toad, Rochester’s studied version of the authentic British pub. His Tap & Mallet is something altogether different, however: more an American-style neighborhood bar-but with a decidedly upscale and 21st century focus on craft beers.

McBane’s pub also happens to appeal to a demographic perfectly suited to a social media-based marketing strategy. His customers are students and young professionals-exactly the people who tend to have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, who follow blogs and reach for Google, not the phone book, when they’re planning their weekends.

And McBane is a natural marketer. He loves his business and loves telling people about it.

These caveats notwithstanding, McBane’s experience proves that social media can pay off richly for business owners who take the time to use it.

His strategy is multi-pronged. He has a website, where he publishes his beer and food menus. Because Tap & Mallet’s selection of draft beers changes continually, the site gives customers an easy way to check what’s on tap.

His website also hosts a blog, where McBane posts short articles on the pub and on any topic that strikes his fancy-any topic, that is, that relates back to beer. The blog serves two purposes. It lets customers stay in touch with McBane and his pub. And it serves up a growing collection of beer-related content. That, in turn, contributes to Tap & Mallet’s respectable Google rank: if you search for “beer + Rochester New York”, the pub’s home page appears within the first five or six results.

But it’s Twitter where McBane most clearly demonstrates the power of social media. A year after opening his Twitter account, McBane has cultivated over 500 followers. He’s also recently launched a Tap & Mallet iPhone app that followers can use to check the pub’s menu and even place orders if they want.

Sometimes his tweets are links to web articles about craft beers. (He uses hash tags on terms like “craft beer” and “Rochester” to help people find his tweets via the software’s search function.)

For the majority of his tweets, however, McBane has one goal in mind: give followers an excuse to drop by for a pint. His selection of draft beers is continually rotating, for instance. So McBane tweets when new beers go on tap. He tweets updates when he’s holding an event-a beer social or a pig roast or a tasting. And he tweets Twitter-only specials.

“People like the exclusivity,” he says.

McBane, for his part, likes the fact that it’s marketing with a clear and tangible effect. He’ll broadcast a secret word that customers can use to get a special price-and within an hour or two, fifteen or twenty people will show up.

It’s marketing with measurable results.

But there’s more to it than that. Social media allows McBane to extend Tap & Mallet into the virtual world. “We’re a beer and food community,” he says-and adds that it’s also a business where you “live or die” on your regulars. By making it easy to stay in touch with his customers, social media helps ensure Tap & Mallet regulars return. Regularly.

And it costs McBane pennies-a couple minutes of phone time, his web hosting fees. Nor does he invest huge amounts of time-maybe 20 minutes a day, on average. Convenience, in fact, is a priority. He recently installed a Facebook app so he can update his Facebook page from his phone. His website beer menu doubles as his on-site beer menu-when he needs new copies of the print menu, he prints them out from the site. That way he only needs to update the menu in one place.

McBane hasn’t abandoned conventional marketing altogether. He generally has one print ad running at any given time in one of Rochester’s local weeklies. That, no doubt, helps him reach people who wouldn’t find him on Twitter or Facebook.

But print is a static media, and McBane understands the lure of variety. Even outside the sphere of social media, he gravitates toward marketing ideas that build on the same kind of novelty afforded by a constantly changing beer menu. His pub doubles as a gallery space for local artists, for instance. This generates good will in the local arts community (most artists sell at least one or two pieces per show). It gives customers something to talk about. But equally important, it ensures that the pub walls are periodically refreshed. “You hang pictures on your wall in your house, and after awhile, you don’t see them any more,” he says. “It’s the same here, for our regulars.” Swapping out the art every few months injects a bit of proverbial spice into the pub’s atmosphere.

McBane also recently purchased a 1956 Austin Princess limousine on EBay. (You can see pictures of him towing it to Rochester from New Hampshire ) “It needs some mechanical work and a re-spray,” he says-a paint job that will include adding the Tap & Mallet logo. “I’ll have it on the road next summer.”

At first glance, using an antique car as a marketing tool might seem a world apart from Twitter.

But it’s not. For McBane, a cool old car is all about personality-or perhaps more precisely personableness: a means of connecting, on a personal level, with customers.

And it works. “We grew our business during a recession,” he says. How much? “I would have been happy with this rate of growth in any economy.”

Yes, social media takes a bit of creative flair. And yes, it helps when your target market is social media-savvy. But as Joe McBane has found, for a relatively small investment of time and money, tools like blogging and Twitter and Facebook can seed genuine word-of-mouth-and deliver a measurable benefit to a business’ bottom line.

Picture perfect win for Staniforth

Friday, November 20th, 2009 by Jon Clements

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It’s not usual for PR Media Blog to “big up” its benificent parent, Staniforth , but if you would indulge us for a moment…

This week, at the North West CIPR Pride Awards, the agency scooped the Best Use of Photography awards for its work supporting the launch of the Fibre Foundation.

In short, we persuaded cricketer and Strictly Come Dancing alumnus, Mark Ramprakash, not only to undress but be anatomically decorated to show the vital organs that benefit from a fibre-rich diet.

As with any good picture, it tells a thousand words; and this went down well with the national media.

The CIPR judges said: “This campaign was built on outstanding use of photography to communicate messages about public health. The use of cricket player, Mark Ramprakash, added celebrity endorsement, but the creative genius was to use body paint in a way to create very striking visual images. The campaign is memorable and reaches the client’s core target publics.”

Now you can get on with eating your Bran Flakes.

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 ''

Marketeers Board the Social Media Clue Train

Thursday, November 19th, 2009 by Jon Clements

Who still hates social media?

Some have been vocal in suggesting that the principles are right but the execution is worth only throwing out and replacing with “something real”.

In Jeremiah Owyang’s recent blog post following the Forbes CMO summit in Florida, the former Forrester analyst and now strategist for the Altimeter Group claimed that this group of chief marketing officers had “elevated” the social media discussion.  Despite the prospect of shrinking marketing spend, he says, the marketeers had seen opportunities to “innovate with inexpensive channels” and not a moment too soon, as they were facing something new: a loss of power to the empowered consumer.

Owyang points out that social media in particular was “on the lips of nearly everyone”, with a focus on how it could apply to changes in influence, reputation management and be integrated with existing activity.  One example he cites from the companies represented at the event is that of Ritz-Carlton hotels, whose hotel managers apparently review online chatter about their hotel before doing anything else of a morning.

Overall, 70% of CMOs polled by Forbes said they’d be doing more work in social media next year, now comfortable that it offers real value, though measurement was still in its infancy.

So how does the picture look in the UK?  There is some caution but big organsiations have been listening and in some cases joining the conversations too.   Retail is one sector where business understands the need for customer dialogue.  It was more of an old fashioned PR stunt but Debenhams used social media to good effect with a twitter assistants day in September.   Habitat was an early adopter but got off to a false start with the hashtags debacle, in which they attempted to piggyback serious stories like the Iran election protests in order to flog lampshades.  ASDA’s new Aisle Spy and Your ASDA blogs are examples of a much more considered approach to long term engagement.

Twelve months ago the attitude of big business to social media ranged from cautious interest to total disregard.  Now, in the UK too, the sound of consumer chatter is gaining an audience in the board room.

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 ''

Does Archie Norman have the X-Factor?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 by Rob Brown

ITV may well have pulled off a major coup in appointing the towering figure of Archie Norman as the broadcaster’s new chairman. What’s more the £300,000 salary is 10% of what he was paid when he left ASDA.  This is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs in TV.  Advertising revenues have been in free fall, audiences are down and the once coveted position on the terrestrial tuner is no longer that valuable.   Media experts like the Guardian’s Emily Bell have been foreshadowing the third channel’s demise for some time “ITV looks like a basket case” she wrote earlier this year.

So why might Norman, an acknowledged powerhouse in retail and politics but with no media experience, change the game?   It is precisely because, unlike current chairman Michael Grade, he isn’t shackled by conventional ideas.  ITV has been quietly making progress of late and not because of the audience grabbing ratings winning X-Factor.   They are on the brink of doing a major deal with US video on demand venture Hulu which could see ITV holding a 25% equity stake in the UK operation of the Disney, NBC Universal, and News Corp joint venture.  Online TV delivery is the future for the medium and this could make ITV a major player.   Cutting deals with the Americans can be tough but let’s not forget that Norman is the man took ASDA to Walmart.

Some say that ITV’s only real value lies in the content, Coronation Street and X-Factor (and it doesn’t own the latter).   Archie Norman will restore some of the power balance from programme makers to the broadcaster.   He’s not a person likely roll over and have his tummy tickled by the likes of Simon Cowell.

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).

Talent No Longer a Factor?

Thursday, November 12th, 2009 by Chris Bull

After several years of doing my best to ignore it, about a month ago I was forced to watch an episode of X-Factor. When two adorable little girls ask if you will watch their favourite show with them, who can say no? An hour later, I was already looking forward to next Saturday.

Seems my conversion came at the right time, because never has the show attracted as many column inches, courted as much controversy or polarised viewers as much as it is right now.

So is this due to the higher quality of contestants? Being a newby to the show it is hard for me to say, but no one this year seems to be another Alexandra or Leona. No, this year it is not extraordinary talent that is pulling viewers in, but an extraordinary lack thereof in the form of John and Edward.

Now if we were to take a reality check on this, the only thing this pair should ever win is a Vanilla Ice look-a-like competition, but their gallant efforts and apparently unrelenting resilience to booing and criticism has captured the public’s hearts. Jedward are a draw, pure and simple, and it is perhaps because of the conspicuous lack of talent elsewhere in the X-Factor camp this year that these two provide a welcome distraction.

Simon Cowell, the proverbial Don Corleone of the X-Factor franchise, knows a thing or two about pulling in viewers and this year Jedward has provided him with a dream ticket. He needs to be a bit careful though – when it suited the papers for him to say so, he would proclaim they were terrible, awful, that they should have not come this far. But when he actually got his chance to vote them off….well he couldn’t do that could he, not with viewing figures up 1.8 million on this time last year and the value of advertising slots going through the roof.

Perhaps what Cowell didn’t expect, however, was that last week they would be in the bottom two against, arguably, the most talented singer on the show. If they were up against Lloyd, it would have been wrong to have kept them in, but at least justifiable. Against Lucie, however, it simply demonstrated that the show is no longer about talent.

In the short term, keeping them in was perhaps a shrewd move. The British public see and hear talented singers all day long on the radio, on the TV and on their Ipod. They don’t get to see a couple of lunatics making fools out of themselves every week. It isn’t all that hard to see their appeal.

But Cowell needs to remember what the show is meant to be about. It is meant to be, after all, a talent competition and as it begins to value novelty over talent, it will begin to lose its credibility. Once that happens, any show can begin to go downhill.

It may be hard to imagine that one day the X-Factor may be struggling for viewers, but remember how popular Big Brother was once upon a time?

If the show is to maintain its long-term future it needs to stick to its simple yet brilliant premise of turning an unknown into an international singing superstar, because talent does not go out of fashion nor is it a novelty. And while the papers are lapping this up at the moment, they could easily turn against the show if that suits their agenda.

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.

Glimmer of hope for local newspapers’ future

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009 by Mark Perry

There is an interesting line tucked away in an interview with John Fry, the chief executive of Johnston Press, which may offer some hope to the future of local newspapers. And boy does the sector need it after the ravaging it has had in the last 18 months.

On The Times’ media page on 6 November, which for some reason is not online, Fry highlights the ‘modest’ circulation rise seen for the Peterborough Evening Telegraph.

The reason for this happening is put very simply: “We’ve invested in pagination because cost cutting went too far. We have made the paper more newsy – with a focus on local content.” The fact that the newspaper costs only 37p is highlighted and that the cover price only contributes a fifth of revenue from sales.  

Fry sees the strategy of having more news as one which can drive circulation so more newspapers can be sold to ultimately reduce Johnston’s dependence on volatile advertising.

Fry does try to caveat the sales increase by saying that Peterborough is “the sweet spot of local publishing” where competition is modest and sales resilient.

I wonder if Johnston have had a ‘eureka’ moment and has finally realised that the reason people buy their local newspaper is for local news.

Johnston’s newspaper titles are on the whole in towns like Peterborough and so we could see increased local news pages in their other titles.

It can’t be forgotten that is a tough market and there are now a number of other avenues for readers to get their news. However the Peterborough template could show that there may be hope that local newspapers do have a future. 

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.

Football gets on the park with Facebook

Monday, November 9th, 2009 by Andrew Doyle

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In today’s guest blog post Staniforth Manchester intern, Andrew Doyle, checks the scores of UK football clubs when it comes to the Facebook league.

With the season just under a third of the way through, English football’s most successful clubs are battling against each other for domestic dominance. But it is not only within the Premier League that England’s footballing giants are competing for success. Research conducted by Revolution magazine indicates that the country’s top teams are also competing with each other in terms of their popularity on Facebook.

Leading the pack with over one million fans signed up to the club’s official Facebook group is Liverpool, while Manchester United are just behind their studded heels with 955,377 followers. Also making it into the top ten, although trailing some way behind are Arsenal and Chelsea, with Stoke

Position Club Facebook Fans
1 Liverpool 1,002,619
2 Manchester United 955,377
3 Arsenal 515,816
4 Chelsea 394,000
5 Tottenham Hotspur 67,489
6 Aston Villa 60,732
7 Manchester City 28,963
8 Everton 21,036
9 Hull City 11,163
10 Stoke City 9,252

The growing presence of football clubs within the social media network is not, perhaps, something to be surprised by.

Before the investment of wealth through the BSkyB revolution, it was easy to see how football clubs regarded their fans as one of the main reason for their existence. Compare that to the initial changes stimulated by BSkyB’s involvement and the subsequent affluence it generated, it is possible to see how football clubs came to see fans less in this way and more as customers, each of whom is a potential stakeholder in a commercial transaction.

Thus it comes as no shock to me that football clubs are using sites such as Facebook in an attempt to ‘get back in touch’ and communicate with fans and the community in an effort to bridge the divide that has been created. However could this be regarded as something of a two-edged sword? This leads to the question: what are the motives for clubs having a presence on such sites? Is this altruism and benevolence or a shrewd and cynical attempt to raise the profile of clubs across the world in a business still dominated by global markets and financial opportunism?