Doing God’s Work – And Serving Mammon

Goldman Sachs, after a bit of a PR disaster last year (‘doing God’s work’, they were, apparently, according to that nice, humble and eminently charming Mr Blankfein) has taken what I consider to be the correct course of communications action – kept its head down, kept schtum and got on with its raison d’etre, which is the making of frankly obscene amounts of wonga. I’m not going to talk about its first quarter results – do the light clickdango here – but suffice it to say that amongst other little frissons was the figure of $5.5bn that they’ve given to their staff. Equivalenting to some $100k per employee, including the blokes who clean the loos. (No of course they didn’t – you figure it out.)

One of the recipients of some of the Goldman’s cash fallout – quite a lot, I am told by unreliable sources – is one Lucas van Praag (apologies to Mr vaan Prag if I got his name wrong), Director of Corporate Communications of the Sachs Parish. It should be said that, following last year’s PR shambles, some did wonder whether he’d actually earned his money.

So did I – until I read this. It takes a genuinely skilled exponent of the spinmeister’s art to come up with the idea of leaking the suspicion of fraud in order not only to initiate an investigation by the FSA, but also get none other than Gordon ‘Wingnut’ Brown lobbying for it.

It’s a stroke of genius. So Goldman Sachs gets investigated – worse, it’s found guilty of misleading investors in the area of toxic stocks. It gets fined. It has to lose the middle-ranking member of staff that (apparently) landed it in the mess in the first place.

But – but. The fine will be but a fraction of its profits. One gets the feeling that the middle-ranking member of staff is persona non grata anyway and is already washed and in the laundry basket waiting to be hung out to dry. The loser in the whole toxic stocks issue was RBS – hardly the most popular or stainless of financial institutions.

No. On balance, all this investigation will succeed in doing is making people see that nice Goldman Sachs as the underdog, unfairly pursued – nay, scapegoated – for something that could have happenend to anyone. And while people are thinking this, they won’t be thinking about the telephone number profits and fat bonuses that have never stopped being a part of the Goldman’s culture.

Mr van Praag – there’s another big sack of money waiting in your office for you. Enjoy.

Make Or Break For Social Media

Here’s a link to dailyfinance.com and a piece about Twitter’s new ad plan, which you can only be ignorant of if you have spent the last day with your head in a bucket of ostrich poo. The journalist calculates that Twitter needs to make between $146 and $241 million in order to justify the current (and apparently sane) valuation of its service of $1.4bn.

(I cannot help but remember Mark Ritson in Marketing magazine saying – and I’m paraphrasing – ‘Twitter worth $1bn? Bollocks to Twitter!’)

Tha means a revenue of $1.95 to $3.21 per user per year. Which apparently is nothing compared to Facebook’s per user revenue of between $3 and $5. Which brings in more than $1bn a year, for the hard of thinking. (I cannot help but suspecting, mind, that this is nonsense of the horrible horseshit variety, but – hey – that’s just me).

Anyway, suffice it to say that there is an opposing school of thought which says that the Twitterads simply won’t work – no matter what anyone says, it’s not like Google (a search engine) and the ads are limited to 140 characters (difficult to communicate at the best of times). On top of that, these ads rely upon people re-Tweeting them and passing them on – a concept which I, personally, find difficult to understand.

The opposing school of thought also points out that Twitter’s infrastructure costs $25m each year to run. Currently it makes no money at all. It simply HAS to find a way of monetising itself – and no, Biz Stone, there’s no time left to do this in a gentle and questioning fashion. It’s acts together time boys, or you’ll go the way of MySpace, Bebo and Friends Reunited.

In fact, now I think about it – and as predicted on this blog last year – there’re only two social media sites left (when I say left, I mean with any sparkle in them). It’s Facebook and Twitter. (LinkedIn is a business medium – and even that, if you listen to the rumours, is on its way out.)

Two big social media brands, one of which will inevitably be eaten by the other in their rush to ‘monetise’ and justify their valuations.

TwatFace, anyone?

Integration – It’s In The Idea

This from the Evening Standard. For the hard of clicking, it’s a piece about the challenges facing the advertising (and by association, the marketing and PR) industry. It’s about integration being the new black (which was a trend in the mid-to-late Eighties, as I recall, but that’s another story).

“”It is a myth that the rise of digital means the death of ‘traditional media'”, adds Woodford (Stephen Woodford, chief executive of agency DDB London). “It just means there is more media for consumers and advertisers to choose from. The winners will be those who use old and new media and play to their respective strengths. A brilliant print campaign can transform a business just as a brilliant digital one can. But it would be better to have both, working together as one.” That’s what integration means.”

Yes, it does. And I, for one, am a great fan of real integration and the power and longevity it instils into any campaign. The example that is cited in the Standard piece (if you STILL, dearest blog snorkellers, cannot be bothered to get jiggy with the clicky on the link I have so thoughtfully provided) is that of comparethemarket.com and its truly excellent Aleksandr Orlov the meerkat campaign.

Which makes me think that all this guff about integration, and how difficult it is to get the respective teams working together – and it is, it is – is actually missing the point.

The starting point for true integration – and genuinely great campaigns, that reach out to the target audiences through all forms of media, using all the communication tools available – is, and always will be, the great idea.

comparethemeerkat.com and the inspired Aleksandr is a brilliant example. It’s a great idea. I bet nobody needed convincing or cajoling into working with that one.

The real issue, therefore, is not getting people to work together. It’s getting them to agree on the great idea.

I’m Michael – Fly Me

British Airways – what a shambles. A once-proud organisation inevitably succumbing to the terribly British tendency to take something good, and solid, and FUBAR.  (See Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell in that meisterwerk of the silver screen, “Tango and Cash”.)

Mind, this time round, you have to give some credit to ‘Wee’ Willie Walsh, who – it must be said – is not doing a completely rubbish job – of the communication of it, anyway. His tactics, of dividing and conquering and picking off elements rather than addressing the whole, seem to be paying dividends.

For the first time, it seems that media sentiment is not wholly against BA’s management. It seems that, perhaps, the tide is turning against those on strike or threatening to strike. What the truth of the matter is, I don’t pretend to know, but the way public perception is being handled is excellent.

And the latest strike-quelling tactic – the threat of appointing Michael O’Leary as CEO – is a stroke of genius.

(OK – it’s not true – but it is very funny.)

Public Relations – Owning The Media Agenda?

Here’s an interesting piece from O’Leary Analytics in Ireland, who’ve done some work on the media profile, and the coverage achieved by, Ryanair – purveyor of ostensibly cheap, yet somehow slightly threatening, airline travel to the masses.

Their conclusion is that the team at Ryanair, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, actually ‘own’ the media agenda – by which I understand that they manipulate it to their own ends.

Which is fair, and probably true – but what is genuinely interesting here and a real lesson for all communicators is not that Ryanair own the media agenda, but how they have achieved that ownership.

Until I saw O’Leary’s work on this, I presumed that it was the force of personality of (Wee Angry) Michael O’Leary, the airline’s head honcho, a man with a real flair for charm, diplomacy and stakeholder relations. (No, of course he hasn’t.)

But it’s not. What it is, is the company’s fearless willingness to court controversy and – most importantly – to isolate the stories (or make them up, if necessary) that are certain to create that controversy. There’s also no doubt that success and profitability are key imperatives that run throughout the business and occupy everyone’s mind. (Take the case of the Ryanair ‘we’ll make people pay for using the toilet’ story – started as a PR stunt, now seems set to become a reality, presumably because there’s a few euro to be had out of it.)

If you look at the peaks of Ryanair coverage, they’re mostly around stories that are completely calculated to grab media attention – and they’re not all positive. A set of bad results? Discount fares some more! Halve your order for new aircraft? Give some money back to shareholders! Even if it’s bad news, Ryanair do not seek to hide it – no! It’s just another opportunity to court controversy – to take control of the media agenda.

No – lest I be pilloried here – I’m not saying that this works for all companies in the same way it works for Ryanair. Ryanair is happy to have a devil-may-care, abrasive, unsympathetic, non-customer-centric image – O’Leary (Michael, not Analytics) would be the first to say it’s all about keeping prices down – that’s all that matters (in tandem with making some money for the shareholders, obviously). Not all companies – in fact very few companies – would wish to be seen in the same way.

But that’s not to say that we can’t all learn something from the Ryanair example – adapt their mindset and way of doing things to suit our own set-up, and our own corporate culture. And in so doing, maybe get a greater level of control over our media’s agenda.

Social Media – PR ‘Students’ And Twitter

You couldn’t make it up. This is another one of those jaw-dropping, what-the-f*ck moments. A moment when – for someone who’s spent the best part of two decades in the corporate communications business – I actually begin to question why I’m here and why the industry exists.

Here is a link to a post on the Teaching PR blog (May 2009), from Grady College, University of Georgia. I can only presume that this is a seat of learning with the same level of gravitas and respect that is accorded to Keele here in the UK.

It provides some hints and tips to PR students on ‘what not to tweet’. I’m not going to paraphrase it here. Trust me, you need to read it in all its truly frightening originality.

Without beating about the bush, the hints about ‘what not to tweet’ are not bad. Basic, but good guidelines for those embarking on a Twitter feed. But they’re all about image and communication – things that, arguably, a student of PR should have a natural feel for.

Personally, if I came across a potential communications practitioner making any of these mistakes, I would advise them that perhaps they have made the wrong career choice and that they should f*ck off and trouble some other industry with their ridiculous and naïve viewpoints and attitudes. (Hey – call me harsh.)

On top of that, if Grady College feel the need to give these hints and tips to their students, then they have wholly failed to engender any sort of PR sense into them – thus, arguably, their course should be shut down.

It’s this sort of misunderstanding, naivety and ill-informed behaviour that will provide the comms industry with the next generation of PR lovelies – all blonde hair and parties – that will perpetuate the crass mythology of PR as a business of fluff and spin and will continue to deny the industry its seat at the top table.

My faithful blog snorkellers will know my feelings on social media. This scary nonsense does nothing to change my opinions, or give me any faith in the future of our profession. I’ll leave you with the following:

“Earlier this semester, @BarbaraNixon tweeted a wise suggestion to her students: go to the Web and look at your last page of tweets. Is that really how you want to represent yourself to the world?

If not, it’s time to rethink your twitter strategy.”

No, it’s time to rethink your life.

Social Media – News Tweets And Measuring Impact

(Just as an aside, could we dispense with the term ‘press release’, used to describe a piece of writing, carrying a message and sent to a journalist with the aim of generating media coverage? Could we not just say ‘news release’ or ‘media release’? Is it not time we broadened our horizons? Anyway.)

Today, blog snorkellers mine, I give you not one wonderful thing to look at – but two! And, as you know that I am not a great advocate of social media as business or marketing communications tools, you may be intrigued to hear that they are both social media ‘value-adds’. Of course, I will put my spin on both, but you can think for yourselves, can’t you,  and you might just go away with something you feel you can use. Never, as I have said before, never say I don’t give you anything.

First I give you muckrack.com. This appears, as far as I can see – and I can’t go very far into these things, as my eyes mist over, a sense of panic descends and I find myself forgetting how to breathe – to be a sort of happy journalistic tweety site, to which you, the hapless PR practitioner, can post (for a small sum) your press releases, in tweet form. (See what I mean about the use of ‘press release’? In an online medium? Or is it that ‘press release’ is a bit like ‘press gang’ – you read the headline and it hits you over the head and the next thing you know you’re waking up in front of your PC and you’ve written a rubbish story about some crappy feminine hygiene product. Hmmmm?)

Personally, I think Muckrack is a site too far. I think it’s the answer to a question that no-one asked. I think it’s someone, probably with the best of intentions, trying to make Twitter relevant to the communications/media industries. I think the content’s a bit poor and there isn’t really a context. I’m afraid that Muckrack is doing nothing to convince me that I ought to be any closer to ‘social media strategy’ than my current ‘not with a bargepole’ default state.

But ignore me. S’pose you pay a dollar a word to put your news tweet through Muckrack. How will you monitor its impact on the blogosphere and the reactions of consumers, competitors and stakeholders? How will you know whether you achieved an ROI or not?

Fear not – well, OK, be a little fearful, because I do not have a clue and frankly don’t think it can be done, but these guys over at VMR Comms do. Blokey here is talking about Radian6, ScoutLabs and Sysomos – and I have no idea what they are or what they do, but I’d say, if you’re serious about your social, then you should be checking it out. I also check this post because it puts forward a list of questions you may need to ask before embarking on a social media monitoring gig. And they are very good questions – so good I post them here:

  • Are you looking to compare your share of voice online versus that of your competitors and track that over time using easily comprehensible metrics that can be assigned a $ value?
  • Whose voice do you want to listen to? Key influeners? General consumer sentiment? Stakeholders? Traditional Media? Male? Female? In North America or worldwide?
  • Do you need a platform that can be used in focus group fashion to slice and dice general consumer sentiment, key influencer sentiment, and or journalist sentiment?
  • Do you need to know where the fish (your prospects and key influencers) are currently swimming (“conversing”) before you dive into or create an empty pond?
  • Would you like to track how well your PR campaigns have increased share of voice specifically among key influencers or among consumers at large?
  • What about your sales and customer services teams? Are they looking for the actionable
  • intelligence that a social media monitoring platform can provide? Will the monitoring platform you choose need to integrate well with a CRM like salesforce.com?
  • Which social media “venues” are you most interested in monitoring? Blogs? Traditional News Outlets? Forums? Linkedin? Facebook? Youtube? Blogtalkradio? Podcasts? (Check out the conversation prism below to get a better sense for what’s out there)
  • If influencing the influencers is important to you, do you need a platform that helps you identify key influencers by showing you inbound links, comment count, level of engagement?
  • Is yours a global brand where you need to monitor not only key influencer sentiment but also the so-called “Long Tail” of your marketing sales curve?
  • Is your CMO demanding specific and meaningful metrics that can demonstrate a clear ROI from your social media engagement efforts?
  • If you are monitoring global brands, will you need a platform that translates content and sentiment in multiple languages?
  • Do you have the resources, expertise and social media savvy currently to fully leverage the capabilities of whatever platform is best for you?
  • How much historical data will you need? Some platforms have absolutely enormous amounts of historical data. Is that going to be helpful to your PR and marketing teams? Or not worth paying extra for?
  • What about ease of use? Do you need a platform that multiple users in your organisation will learn quickly and easily, thus increasing their level of online engagement?