Before anyone has a pop – while, yes, I am having a rant and poking fun at the expense of the industry (specifically the CIPR – of which I am a member), there is also a very serious message underpinning this post. And why – blog snorkellers mine – would I waste time in delivering the message? So here it is.

We, sad sailors on this ship of fools that we call communications, are supposed to be sensitive to shit. With me so far? Part of our function, and a part that fills the fee coffers of so many of of our finest agency purveyors, is counselling clients (internal and external) on how to present themselves. What to say. What not to say. What to align with. What not to align with. What to embrace. What not to embrace. We are supposed to point out the pitfalls of courses of communications action and – most importantly – recognise when it is best to keep your head down and just say nowt.

So it is with mouth-dropping incredulity that I read this. For you lazy bastards who never click on a single link I post, it’s a story about the Northumbria Police Force who entered the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) PRide Awards (even the name makes my skin crawl), and won an award, with their handling of the fallout from a fatal crash in which one of its officers drove into, and killed, a 16-year old child. The officer was doing 94mph in a 30mph zone without lights or a siren, and he was jailed for three years.

Now. Where to start. CIPR PRide Awards judges – what made you think that it was a good idea to consider this for an award, never mind actually naming it a winner? Northumbria Police Force – who amongst your communicators was so thick-skinned, blind and self-centred as to think that a pathetic PR award was more important than the feelings, grief and privacy of a family missing a daughter? Did no-one involved in this predict the (yes, inevitable) fallout?

Once again, the PR industry gets a shoeing in the national media and the stereotype of the airheaded, oblivious PR practitioner gets a bit of reinforcing.

We’re our own worst enemies. Let’s try and tighten things up shall we, and bring the same rigour that we claim to apply to our client work to bear on the communications we do on our own behalf. Let’s try and be – genuinely – a profession.

And not just a cheap fucking joke.

Facebook And The Daily Mail – Two Of My Favourite Things

As you may know, the Daily Mail is having a go at Facebook for leaving its younger members open to abuse by older – how shall we say – more predatory members. The gist of the story was that someone posed as a 14-year-old girl, and, “within 90 seconds, a middle-aged man wanted to perform a sex act in front of me”.

Now, as this piece from a BBC blog rightly says, there are a number of issues with the story. First, because of the way Facebook works, it’s practically impossible for it to have happened. Second, the someone who posed as the girl a) didn’t write the piece b) sent in corrections to the piece which were ignored and c) was using another social medium anyway.

Daily Mail issues an apology – but the paper being what it is, it was small and on page 4. But an apology nonetheless.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs, however, the story does throw up (yet another) issue with social media. It’s open to abuse. We’ve all heard stories about various people’s Twitter feeds being hi-jacked and messages sent to all their followers, proposing the sale of under-the-counter medications or the perusal of overly-endowed women with no clothes on. It started with spam, and now this stuff is becoming more insidious. It simply underlines the complete lack of any sort of control or regulation – which is what you get (or don’t get) when you’re dealing with media that can be accessed and utilised by absolutely anyone, regardless of proclivity or state of mind.

I suppose it’s a question of what sorts the wheat from the chaff? And if you’re a large brand or big organisation looking to leverage a social media strategy for a commercial end – you may think that you’re wheat, but how are you going to prevent someone turning you to chaff? You won’t know about it until it’s happened, at great cost to your corporate reputation. Is it, after all, a risk worth taking?

But back to the Facebook/Daily Mail standoff – I do think the paper has a nerve. Complaining about the danger posed by things presenting themselves as things they are not. I mean – I read the Daily Mail once, and was completely taken in by the way it presented itself as serious journalism. It was only much later that I realised I’d been conned, and that it was simply trying to take advantage of my naivety.

Social Media – Les Twittes Francais

Another fascinating example of what social media is actually good for. Tittle-tattle.  Scuttlebutt. Gossip. Prurient  – and some might say, inappropriate – interest in the doings of others. Destroying the careers of powerful men.

Hold on – what? Yes – Nicolas Sarkozy, 23rd and current President of the French Republic is apparently ‘avin’ it away with the karate-chopping Chantal Jouanno, his (and I hope I won’t get accused of being sleazy when I state, quite attractive) 40-year-old Ecology Minister. Good grief, she’s young enough to be my slightly younger sister!

Apparently, it’s in reaction to his slightly taller wife, the fragrant – and self-confessed anti-fan of that outmoded convention, monogamy – Carla Bruni doin’ the do with Benjamin Biolay “a musician six years her junior” (this courtesy of the breathless, soaraway Daily Telegraph).

Now – I will confess I have enjoyed writing about this, but there is a point. And I’m not going to labour it.

The affairs – if indeed they actually exist outside the fevered minds of the gossiping classes – came to light via a rising tide of Twitter buzz, which gained critical mass and, in so doing, migrated into the – if I can use the term – mainstream. This is what Twitter – and indeed all social media – is good at. Taking a story with a hint of gossip, salaciousness, controversy and/or sex and spreading it far and wide, regardless of what the truth or reality might actually be.

This is why non-one can afford to ignore social media – not because it is a valid commercial communications, marketing or sales tool, but because it moves so quickly that it poses a real threat. When social gets you – you’ve no time to prepare – you’re back-footed and it’s damage limitation time.

There are two courses of action therefore. One, as I’ve said before, is to prepare for the issues that might happen, before they do – and monitor, monitor, monitor. The second is become President of the French Republic.

Apparently they’ve all had affairs and it’s not damaged a single one of them. Gotta love the French.

Social Media – Examples – Good And….Not Good

Here’s a couple of examples of what you can do with social media, dependent on who and what you are. My loyal blog snorkellers will be fully HP with my point of view (that social media is not a valid business communications, marketing or sales tool) but you’ll also know that I’m nothing if not open to new ideas. Unless those new ideas are genuinely pants or threaten the way I think the world should be. Obviously.

So – here we are from BMW, a luvverly film (and it IS a luvverly film) around some motorbike product or other. Obviously aimed at wealthy young (or not so young) men with a need for speed and a bad taste in trousers, beanie hats and friends. You’d need to be careful – this to my male snorkellers – quite how old you were buying one of these. Don’t want to look like a midlfecrisesian, now do we?

On the other hand, here’s a Twit feed from the British Armed Force, which links to this blog, again from the British Armed Forces. I would like to say – although I have no particular feelings about the conflict in Afghanistan (no-one asked me, d’you see) – that I think this is genuinely excellent and I am – deeply – in awe of the men and women who are out there, doing what they do. If you read anything today, click on the links herewith, and absorb the content. Amazing.

Anyway, conclusions. Look at the commentary stream following the BMW video. Are they going to buy a bike? No. Has BMW built a relationship with them? No. These people are all too macho and self-absorbed and – let’s be honest – a bit fricking thick. So – sorry BMW – it’s a waste of money. You’d be better off with experiential. (Oh, and, fair cop – the video is a little bit too fake, sadly.)

Meanwhile, Major Paul Smyth over at t’Army in Afghanistan. It’s genius. It’s compelling. It’s very scary and it’s shocking to read of the deaths of soldiers in what is, effectively, real time. (For what its worth, my thoughts are with their families.) Someone needs to re-think this whole war thing. Someone without their head up America’s bottom.

Summary – social media exists. It’s a great information-sharer. It’s brilliant for those without an axe to grind and with an interesting (perhaps shocking) story to tell. When it comes to branded stuff however – are you listening, blue propeller? – it’s a waste of money and it sucks.

Public Relations – Crisis Management And Paying By Results

Just a brief post to keep the blog fresh – I’m off to the former Yugoslav Republic for a spot of light media training, so – oh faithful blog snorkellers – you’ll have to do without your daily fix for a while. But, and well, here’s a thing.

It’s PR Week! The industry bible (cover price £9,674.32, at a quality newsagent near you).

No, I’m not having a pop. Not this week, anyway. Nope, I want to say – hoorah! Well done! Valuable stuff, delivered in an interesting fashion, the sort of content that I would recommend any young practitioner hoover up and keep on file for future reference. I am, of course, talking about their bit on ‘Five Steps to Better Crisis Management’. Have a click, enjoy.

Mind, I was properly pissed orf by the news article on page 2. ‘Payment by results criticised’. By the PRCA. You get the feeling that the industry bodies don’t want us to drag ourselves out of the dark ages. Payment by results is the way forward. As long as you’ve agreed what success and failure looks like and how over-achievemnt will be rewarded. It already happens in the heady world of M&A financial PR – no result, no payment – but the Tulchans and Finsburys and Brunswicks of this world make bloody sure that no matter what happens, a success is seen to have been achieved – triggering the success fees.

In the case of Cadbury-Kraft, that was a share of £240m. That’s what I call payment by results.

Social Media – Thoughts For The Day

(N.B. dear blog snorkellers, there will be no links in the copy today. This is because I can’t be bothered to tell you where I’ve been and also it’s a test of faith. Like so many of the social media posts and threads that I stumble upon, today I am going to say ‘trust me’. Take what I say as read. Don’t ask for proof. For once in your lives, believe in something. Me.)

Facebook, apparently, has 400 million users, half of which log in every single day. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think is true. Today I ran across a reasonably authoritative article that quoted a figure of 160 million logging in every day. But hey, what’s 40 million users per day between friends?

I’ve also made a big point of my belief that no brand, business or organisation is yet to make a significant commercial return on their investment in social media. This has got me into a lot of trouble – but I stick by it – every time I scratch the surface, the same old names crop up – Starbucks, BestBuy, Amazon, Dell, Coke, Ford. I gave myself into the gentle embrace of that most Googlicious of search engines and tried variations along the lines of ‘big brands social media’ and ‘brands social media success’. I know this isn’t scientific, but I couldn’t find any list of branded social media successes more recent than July/August last year. Not terribly reassuring, is it? – useful blog, but hideously heavy going – published a list of Top 10 Twitter trends for last week. Tell, just who in the hell is Justin Bieber? I’m guessing here, but I’d imagine he’s got the same level of social and cultural significance as The Jonas Brothers, Tiger Woods, Super Junior, Lil Wayne and American Idol. I don’t think anyone’s in danger of drowning in this particular knowledge pool.

And, finally, I had a quick skim round the various Twitter feeds belonging to some of the bigger brands, just to reassure myself that the ‘Big Conversation’ hadn’t somehow become more valid and meaningful over the weekend. It hadn’t. Here’s where we’re at with corporate tweeting: “Woo-hoo! Just launched! check out the brand new” (It’s the least I could do – give them a bit of a plug. Apparently, the fact that Mr Bux has got some social media icons on the home page, that’s enough to make the average punter believe they’re soc-med savvy. All smoke and mirrors.)

(B*gger – there’s a link in my copy.)

Anyway – conclusion for the day? Social media is obfuscation, flim-flam and chiffon gauze. (Sort of.) It still does not represent a route to market. An ROI cannot be extrapolated from social media. All business is about sales, and the value that those sales deliver to the brand, business or organisation – social media do not sell, nor can the effects that they may have on an audience be defined or evaluated. At best, social media raises awareness – but not of overtly branded messages because if you break the unwritten rules of the feral community, its members run back into the shadows, yelping abuse.

By all means – experiment. But don’t waste too much time, resource or money on it.

Corporate Reputation – Toyota And The Need For Purpose

I am very fond of the internet. (Even though, obviously, I don’t know all of it.) It’s mostly the way that things just crop up, without one necessarily looking for them, which provide insight into, and opinion on, stuff that is instantly resonant and relevant. There’s always someone out there in webworld who sees the connection between events and best practice, in any field, or sector, or discipline, even when you haven’t. Everything I’ve just said here is, of course, stating the obvious – that’s what you’d expect from the feral communities engendered by the net – and it’s not that which astounds. No – it’s the serendipity with which the net throws things one’s way – almost as if there was some sort of a fate lending an ethereal hand.

Most likely, it’s to do with quantum. Algorithm’s gonna get you.

Anyway – here’s a piece that I think is splendid. It’s from a blog called Decision to Lead – Expanding the Practice of Leadership and it’s by a lady called Frances Frei, who is (according to the blurb) ‘Harvard Business School’s resident expert of service excellence’. Which, to my mind, gives her a bit of gravitas.

The piece is about the whole ongoing Toyota situation of which we are all aware, even if we’re not sure how many cars have been recalled and what, exactly, they’ve been recalled for. Mechanical bloopers, shall we say. Frances comes at it from the angle of what I will call ‘corporate religion’ and what she calls a purpose. You can read the post yourselves, dear blog snorkellers, but Frances posits that Toyota lost its focus on its corporate purpose of ‘improvement’ – improvement of its product and improvement in the way its product was constructed. From the pursuit of this purpose came business success – sales and profits. Toyoat lost its focus – or rather its focus shifted, from improvement as a corporate purpose, to sales and profits as goals in themselves. As these became the goals of the company, so corners were cut, so the pride and motivation of the workforce became less – and it was then but a matter of time before what happened, happened.

It’s a great lesson – shame that it takes a global product recall, and its affect on the consumer, to teach it. The lesson is that businesses and organisations that have true longevity, that are the ones that enjoy enduring success (in the form of sales and profits), that are the ones that engender respect and admiration in their stakeholders – these are businesses for whom sales and profits are not goals in themselves. They are function of the bigger corporate purpose – the mission, the vision, the intent, the corporate religion – whatever you’d wish to call it. With a clearly defined and articulated purpose comes pride and motivation and – yes – reward for the people that make the business or organisation run.

(PS. Lest I be accused of being an unreconstructed, irredeemable hippy, I know that there are industries and business sectors where the purpose is nothing more or less than profit, and the people who are involved in them are wholly subsumed in the pursuit of the purpose – banking, mostly. I will be hippy-ish, mind, and ask whether we’d be in such a global economic bind right now if, perhaps, the bankers had had another purpose, other than sheer greed.)

(PPS. The need for corporate purpose has been around forever. I say this to prevent anyone trying to tell me that it’s part of the New Age of business, where everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice is important, which has been brought about by that life-changing, world-shaping phenomenon, social media. Horse droppings.)

Social Media – Good, Bad and Ugly

Very brief post – just to keep everyone thinking. So Twitter right, it’s all about stuff and conversations and motivation and – sometimes – some primeval horsesh*t from those who should know better – check this out (and no, I don’t care that it’s out of context, it’s frightening nonsense from a grown – well – human – I presume):

“More PR hip shooting I see.

 The empirical research show us that it is about commonly held and and understood values.

 I thought that was what Bruno Amaral showed at Bled.

His work is not based on counting fairies on a pin head it accesses tens of thousands of discourse items analyses them and identifies relationships.

It can be about ‘me’ but unless me is part of ‘me and me look alikes’ it will fail.”

This is a comment on a post found here – it’s not about Twitter, mind, per se, it’s about scial media. It’s a shocker. Enjoy.

Anyway, Twitter. Here’s a couple of things.

First, here’s the Williams Formula 1 twitter feed from the daughter of the team principal (Sir Frank), which has been posting interesting updates on pre-season testing over the last week. If you’re an F1 fan ( and I am, I am), you can dip in and out of this for news and views, without compromising your integrity and without – I have to say – a single brand mention. Works for me. Other teams are doing it as well.

And this is how Twitter – if it does have any use – actually serves a purpose. Distributing ‘what are you doing now’ posts for those who have an interest. When are the social media gurus going to realise that this is not an answer to the marketing ill – it’s merely another tool in the marketing toolbox and (if I can mix a metaphor) in the toolbox it is at best a signpost. Not a megaphone. (Yes, of course I have a megaphone in my toolbox. Don’t you?)

It doesn’t sell product, it doesn’t change opinion, except on an oily tanker sort of basis. (That’s an opinion turning circle of several hundred miles.)

To back this up, I present this. This is Advertising Age ‘Top 10 Most Tweeted Brands” survey from last week. Have a look and shudder with the realisation that it’s all – without exception – stuff that people have learnt about elsewhere.

Don’t know about you, but if I was a marketer, or a comms professional – oh! I am. If it was me, unless I had unlimited budget, Twiiter is the last place I’d be allocating time, resource or cash.

What some of F1 is doing is good. What overzealous, over-funded and overpaid marketers are trying to do is bad. The reality of Twitter is ugly.

Go figure.

Social Media – Handling Online Criticism

Once again, dear blog snorkellers, never let it be said that I don’t give you anything of any value. Here’s a piece which I came across recently, which is entitled “For Nonprofit Organizations: How To Handle Online Criticism” (As you can see from the errant and offensive ‘z’, it’s an American post.) Don’t be put off by the whole ‘Nonprofit’ bit (if you’re not a nonprofit), the meat of the article applies across the board. It is a long and lengthy piece, stuffed full of links, so it takes a bit of time, but it contains good thinking on the topic.

For the sake of clarity, I am not a fan of social media as a commercial marketing or communications tool. I think it is overrated and overvalued, and that far too much is being made of it by people who do not understand (for who can) where it is going, how it will develop and what effects (if any) it will have on the way people make purchasing decisions.

The one thing that I am certain of, however, is that social media will cause and trigger more problems than it solves. The very fact that anyone, anywhere – if they have internet access – can post anything is going to lead to trouble. It’s the whole ‘infinite number of monkeys, with an infinite number of typewriters’ deal, only in this case an infinite number of surfers with an infinite number of fora are unlikely to produce the complete works of Shakespeare – more likely the sort of chaos that is created by the complete works of any local council’s department of works.

But what is guaranteed is that with complete freedom of expression comes a complete range of opinion – including the bitter, twisted, isolated and disturbing – and some of that opinion will be critical. And if that critical opinion gains critical mass – rightly or wrongly – very quickly (very quickly indeed) it will be everywhere.

How you deal with that criticism – the speed with which you do so, the manner in which you do so, the content that you use – will reflect upon your enterprise, business, organisation or brand and – in fact – offers an opportunity to amass valuable reputational credits.

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.