Advertising Value Equivalent – oh, no. Not again.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. PR Week has its pages to fill after all and there is only a finite amount of stuff going on in the PR industry that’s even interesting, never mind newsworthy. So, to bulk the magazine up last week, some bright spark (yes, that’s sarcasm – not irony, for my US readers, sarcasm) has decided to re-ignite (as far as you can re-ignite something that has the flammability of a wet blanket in the rain) the old debate over AVE. I genuinely cannot believe that there are still people out there both using and justifying it. WAKE UP! It’s pants! Always has been, always will be.

Anyway, for those of you who can be bothered to lift your fingers for a spot of clickery, here’s the link to the article. Marvel at the cretins that call themselves PR professionals! Gasp in wonder at the rubbish that gets printed in what passes for the voice of the industry. If PR Week is the voice of the industry, then, my dears, we are well and truly banjaxed.

That is all for now.

(Two minutes later)

Aaaaagh. Now you actually have to subscribe to PR Week to read the drivel that graces its pages. This has to be worth a rant in itself. Magazine readerships and revenues are suffering – Haymarket, the illustrious publishers of PR Weak (not to be confused with Haymeerkat, which I believe is some kind of new media agency) have been bombarding me with emails recently, asking me to perform clickicity on links to receive free subscriptions to at least three of their magazines. Well, Haymarket, if you’re listening, the way to tempt people in would be TO LET THEM READ THE ARTICLES ON THE MAGAZINE’S WEBSITE WITHOUT HAVING TO SUBSCRIBE FIRST, YOU HORRIBLE BUNCH OF NUMPTIES.

I would suggest that most people just don’t care enough about you or your publications to subscribe – let them read the stuff and at least you can claim some sort of readership. And who knows, someone – one of the soap-spined, meaningless la-las that populate the vale of tears that we call PR, most likely – might even subscribe at the end of it.

And, clearly, it would make it easier for me to post stuff and take the mick.

As you were.

(If anyone does, by any strange mischance, want to read the PR Week rubbish about AVE, then visit and search for ‘AVE’. And then subscribe. Heaven help you.)

Social Media – How CAN it Work as a Corporate Communications Tool?

Anyone who’s bothered to read the opinions and examples that I’ve posted here (and if you have, thank you – thank you so very much) will know what my stance is on the social media phenomenon and how it relates to corporate communications and this business we call ‘spin’. For those who’ve not bothered to keep up with my musings, bimblings and meanderings (booooooo – and there are so MANY of you), I’ll precis here. Stick with me, it’s important as context for what will come later.

In brief, I’m of the considered opinion that what we’re seeing – in terms of the unseemly bandwagon-jumping, the social media marketing industry that has grown up to satisfy the ever-expanding need for a social media ‘fix’ and the lemming-like rush by brands, companies and organisations to grab a piece of the social media tartlet (so much tastier and more rewarding that the sausage and mash of traditional communication) – is nothing more, or less, that a repeat of the dotcom boom of the late 2oth/early 21st centuries. No matter how you look at it, because of its very nature, because of the enormity of choice, because of the way people interact with it, the internet is never going to be an terribly effective or truly measurable marketing tool.

There. I’ve said it. And guess what – I’ve not been struck by lightning and the door hasn’t been smashed in by the black-suited and be-sunglassed Social Media Police. Mind you, hedging my bets, I will caveat the big statement by saying – as I have so often – don’t ignore social media and the internet. In a traditional communications campaign – presuming all the resource you need and a perfect world – you don’t ignore weekly freesheets just because they don’t have the reach of a national newspaper or radio station. In fact, in certain instances, weekly freesheets deliver the sort of audience that larger media outlets won’t deliver. But – and it’s a big but – you’ve got to want to reach that audience and that audience has to deliver value back to you. Otherwise it’s not worth it.

Social media is exactly like that. If you’ve got the time and the resource – and let’s not forget that making use of social media is incredibly labour intensive and thus costly in comparison to other forms of communication – and you’ve got, most importantly, the need, then social media will deliver you stuff. Obviously. There wouldn’t be all this hype if it hadn’t delivered to someone, somewhere, something worthwhile.

I had a chat with an ex-colleague who is making a living out of providing content for t’internet recently, and for a period of at least half-an-hour, I thought I’d made a big mistake. Not only were his arguments for social media as a comms/marketing tool coherent and compelling, he also had some big corporate examples – one particularly – of how the use of social media (in this case Twitter) had delivered big monetary value to said big corporate. When I got home (after a great deal of beer, I’m afraid), in a Carrie Bradshaw moment, I started thinking about the instances in which the use of social media has delivered value to brands, companies and organisations, and whether there’s a formula or a pattern to be perceived.

Was I, in effect, wrong or – more palatable to me – were there specific circumstances that triggered results from social media, circumstances that cannot be simply ‘turned on’ by a corporate communications team and thus cannot really be harnessed? Does the Emperor have a fantastic designer suit in his wardrobe, or is he simply walking through a room full of falling handkerchiefs? (OK, that may be a metaphor too far.)

Something that aided the thought process was a question posted recently on LinkedIn, which was “Can Twitter ever be used successfully as a brand management tool?” At the risk of being seen to manipulate things to suit my own arguments, I’d suggest substituting ‘Twitter’ for the more generic ‘social media’. That’s the beauty of a blog – I can do whatever I want.

There were, as you’d expect, loads of answers. Some yes, some no, some puppyishly positive, some demonically negative. What there were, however, were examples, which I’ll list here, and I’ll also add the example provided to me by my ex-colleague (see above if you’ve been so enthralled by the last para that you’ve forgotten what went before). So – in no particular order:

“CCN is using Twitter to prove it is the news leader in timely deliver”(sic)

“Pres Obama is using it to prove that he and his admin are the most relevantly connected politicans on the planet”

“A variety of Hollywood personalities are using it to build and maintain their brands”

“The famous Los Angeles BBQ Taco Truck is alive and well because of Twitter!”

“Just started a Twitter account for a music-sharing site – now have 1,000 followers”

“(Big American Computer Company) addressed their famous customer service issues on Twitter – an extra $xxm orders were received on the back of it”

On the face of it – all good and, in some cases, high profile uses of Twitter to achieve an end for a brand, company, organisation or proposition. But. And there’s always a but. In each case, there’s a reason why they’ve been successful and they’re not reasons that you just ‘turn on’ to make your brand more social media-friendly.

CNN is a media outlet already and people are used to accessing CNN for their news – therefore getting users to sign up for CNN ‘tweets’ is hardly a triumph of new media marketing. It could be said that CNN must have big issues if it needs to use Twitter to promote itself.

Barack Obama – he’s the most powerful man in the world! Of course people are going to try and be friends with him on Facebook!

Ditto Hollywood personalities. As a crass example, if George Clooney, or Scarlet Johansson are on Twitter, they’re going to have followers. Go figure.

The famous BBQ Taco Truck (whatever that is) and a music-sharing site – these are things that push social media buttons – everyone wants music (especially for free or for cheap) and everyone wants tacos (well, within reason). What I’m saying is that both of these examples are pushing against an open door – they’re things that people want and if you have these things and cannot get followers then you should retire. Now.

The (Big American Computer Company) example is, however, interesting, and here’s where I leave you for today. This company were sitting on a crisis. Their customer service was shocking and customers were up in arms. At this point, they had a choice, do nothing, or open a dialogue. Their customers were ready and prepared to engage in dialogue, so the door was already open. Yes, they could have got it wrong, but that would have been a display of communications stupidity so vast that they would have deserved everything they got. What they did was invest, spend time, maintain regular and open dialogue, monitor responses and issue prompt and sensible feedback. They turned things around, they got extra orders. (Now that their crisis has been ‘resolved’ mind, it would be interesting to see how many people are still following their Tweets.)

Of course, for every good example of crisis management through social media (and this is the first I’ve heard of) there’s a poor example. I think I need only say ‘Dominos Pizza’ and ‘YouTube video’.

So, for social media to be a success, you need to be a brand, company or organisation that people know about and want to engage with (and the only way to achieve that is through traditional media channels) or you need to have a big problem and be prepared to front it up and engage in open dialogue with your audiences. Which might, of course, backfire.

But I see a business opportunity. Recommending crisis scenarios to big companies. Bear with me. If you have, for example, a deodorant brand, you could STAGE a crisis. Say you release a few cans of deodorant that, instead of smelling like lemongrass and patchouli (like it says on the label), smell of distilled rancid skunk. Massive customer furore, multimedia press coverage – and the perfect opportunity to create a Twitter account to ‘apologise’ and ‘explain’ to your customers.

Genius. Only it might, of course, go horribly wrong……………….

Social Media – A Slap in the Facebook

I promise I will go into more detail about these posts – there are many (and varied) conclusions to be drawn – however I have recently suffered what I believe to be a terminal glass-of-cranberry-juice-in-the-keyboard error and am now reduced to stealing moments here and there on other people’s computers. Normal service will be resumed as soon as I can haul my sorry *rse (copyright Prince Harry, 2008) down to PC World. (And the moment I typed those last few characters, I could hear the annoying jingle in my head. Get out! Get out!)

Anyway, thanks to Communicate Magazine for these two pieces. Which seem to contradict each other, slightly. Or is it just me?

Social Media – Royalty Without a Stitch

I’ll post more about this later, because I’ve had a few more thoughts, but in the interim, for your delight and delectation, here’s a piece from Marketing Week, March 25 2009. Apologies for the delay in getting it up here.

This, for me, says it all. No – stop – don’t ignore social media, or chuck your digital strategy in the bin – but don’t – don’t – let it become an all-consuming obsession.

Crisis Management – Excellent Example of How Easily a Crisis Happens and How Not to Handle It

This is absolute genius. Or not, clearly. Someone didn’t think, and then someone else didn’t check. Result – unmitigated disaster. Not helped, I’m afraid, by the rather lacklustre response. Please, please – if you’re going to issue something in a particular language, make sure that you get it right. Otherwise you look like a bunch of amateurs. Which, in fairness, these guys probably are.–they-must-be-joking

Social Media as a Communications Tool – the Fish Theorem Part II

There I was, bimbling round the outer reaches of t’interweb and, much to my joy, I found someone else shared my views on social media and fishing. I don’t know why I find this surprising – it’s the old infinite number of monkeys/infinite number of typewriters principle – and two of us came up with social media and fish. Bound to happen, sooner or later. If only I could apply this same level of serendipity to my, so far, unsuccesful attempts to buy a winning lottery ticket.

So I had a look at this person’s Social Media/Fish presentation and – oh, big letdown – it’s pants. Pants in the English sense – big, grey, baggy y-fronts. My theory is much better, and more easily understandable. But, I suppose, it doesn’t have pictures.

If you’d like to look at the substandard Social Media is Like Fishing presentation, here it is. Personally, I’d avoid it like the plague.

Internal Communications – More Questions Than You Answered

True story, and probably all too commonplace in the current economic climate. Take one large company, still having it large – probably less large than it was having it over the last five years or so – but an absolute leader in its field. People really, really want to work for this company, in fact there have been cases of candidates resorting to expressions of physical violence amongst themselves in the car park post-interview. (OK, I made that last bit up, but you get the picture.)

Anyway, and I do go on, don’t I, said company – like so many at the moment, is imposing a pay freeze. Before you get all uppity, this is a good thing. In imposing a pay freeze, jobs will be saved, redundancies avoided and the company keeps a talented workforce, which it has spent so much time recruiting, in anticipation of the good times rolling again. And for this company, they will. However, and this should be borne in mind (or rather, without giving too much of my story away) should have been borne in mind, the people who work for this company are used to big rewards – for which they work, some might say, stupidly hard.

So, a pay freeze. The first inkling that all was not right was when senior management, used to getting spreadsheets showing the amount that they had available to divvy up between their teams, realised that those spreadsheets were not forthcoming. The delay become rather less of a delay and rather more of a talking point. Two weeks later, they got the email.

I’ve been privileged to see the email. I consider myself to be quite good with words and to be able to see through the jargon and grasp the message pretty quickly. Not in this case. Oh no. It took three reads before the upbeat and obfuscatory language gave way to the underlying blunt truth – there would be no salary increase this year. A turd wrapped in candy-floss.

Sadly, I can only imagine the joy of the internal comms people at the reasonably remote corporate HQ – “Yaaay – we’ve done it! We’ve made this unpleasant and unheard of (in the history of this company anyway) news seem palatable! We’ve dressed it up and covered it in make-up and no-one will be the wiser!”

Oh dear. Because it was so ‘clever’, no-one immediately understood what it meant – and these are busy people, with better things to do than to examine emails from every angle in order to try and glean meaning. No, these are the sort of people who call a turkey a turkey and, if they suspect it’s a turkey, are unafraid of asking questions.

Which they did, and the lovingly-crafted edifice that had been built around the unpalatable truth came tumbling down. These people, used to big rewards for their big workloads, understandably felt ill-served – not necessarily by the fact there’s a pay freeze, but by the way that they were (or more accurately, weren’t) told.

It’s by no means a long-term disaster, mind, the company will survive and their employees will get over it – although their trust and faith may be dented which will have undoubted, if invisible, effect on the company’s ability to recruit the best of the best in the future – but there are a couple of immediate lessons to be learned.

If the news is bad, don’t try and wrap it in tinsel. Don’t treat intelligent people as if they were stupid. Tell it how it is and they’ll respect you more.

And don’t let the big boys get away with it. If you’re running internal comms then you have a duty to advise at the highest level and ensure that it’s done properly. Sometimes that means putting yourself in the line of fire for the greater good. And if you can’t see that, or aren’t prepared to do it, then give the job to someone who can and is.