30 January 2007

Three word descriptor….

Mallet’s Mallet, the word association game on Wacaday, is a good introduction to the three line descriptor.

Timmy Mallet used to get two small children, usually a boy and a girl, and make them look at each other and go bleugh. Then Timmy would say a word and child one would respond with the first word that came into their head. Child two then had to say the first word that came into their head and so on. It would have been dull TV were it not for the fact that pauses or repeats resulted in a bang on the head for the errant child.

Companies like the same thing...for the brand to instantly create a word association. Bentley = luxury, EasyJet = cheap and cheerful, M&S = filthy voiceover.

The press, too, likes to explain a company in a few words to help people place it.

The trouble comes, of course, when the newspaper’s three word descriptor differs from the company’s three word descriptor. Back in the day, Xerox was always described along the lines of ‘the photocopier company’ and it hated it because Xerox’s strapline and intention was to be ‘the document company.’ It’s a small difference and, while it’s petty, you can understand (it does printers too)…

So in all its press releases Xerox always described itself as the ‘the document company.' Overtime, the media did indeed change the way it described Xerox. After a series of poor financial results, the descriptor became ‘the troubled photocopier company.’

Thankfully, many large companies have finally given up the practice of forcing a three word descriptor into the first line of every news release. Honestly. Check out news releases from SAP, IBM, even Xerox, and the three word descriptors have gone.

Smaller companies, however, still love the three word descriptor and often - with no genuine USP - these companies tend to create longer and longer descriptors. We all have a favourite example, but flying the flag for the tech PR industry is Clarity Public Relations. A rare bastion standing firm against the onslaught of common sense, it proudly uses the descriptor:

“The only CarbonNeutral PR consultancy that specialises in the technology sector and related industries.”

Kudos to Clarity for its environmental commitment but, honestly, that descriptor is a large enough blot on the landscape to block out all the coal-fired power stations in China.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr Fleming is a good bloke. It's a bold move and I hope it works well for him.

Sounds like none of us will be able to drive anywhere soon, cos there will be all these flippin' tress in the way... ;)

Anonymous said...

Carbon Neutral PR....are you having a laugh. Not only is it a *little* bit wanky WE WORK FOR TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES!!

Anonymous said...

How true is this though? There are at least couple of other tech PR specialists who have gone carbon neutral.

Em said...

Ah... but maybe they are the "leading carbon neutral PR agency" ;-)

Sean Fleming, Clarity PR said...

I wasn't going to bother getting involved in this because it all feels like a bit of a playground squabble. But in the interests of balance, and all that, I've decided to put forward a few pertinent facts.

First, I don't mind anyone having a pop at me, or using me to practice being funny on (did that sound catty..?). I've been there done that etc, and when I was a journo on The Register I said a lot worse about people. Only I put my name to my comments rather than remaining anonymous.

"The only CarbonNeutral® PR consultancy that specialises in the technology sector and related industries" – a bit wordy, perhaps. But I'm not sure I'd call it our "descriptor" per se, it is – in fact – the stand first on a news item on our website. We don't sell ourselves on the fact we're carbon neutral, it just happens to be one of the strings to our bow.

Anyway, on to my reaction to some of the remarks left here about Clarity PR.

Yes, we are carbon neutral and we have been since 2005. We were assessed by Future Forests (now called the Carbon Neutral Company - www.carbonneutral.com) and the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management. Personally, I've been involved (on and off) with environmental issues since 1994 when I worked at the Global Forum 94 summit in Manchester, which was the follow up to the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. So I'm not exactly jumping on a bandwagon. I would, however, like it if a few more journos, PR agencies and publishing companies would join in.

The carbon neutral thing is on our website because it's an achievement I'm proud of. I don't think we've ever issued a press release publicising it. I've been interviewed by a few journos about it (FT, Graun, Indie, and PR Week come to mind). I talk about it whenever I get chance because I believe (rightly or wrongly) it's important that everyone realises it is possible to get involved and make a difference.

I'm not sure how it's a "little bit wanky" to give a toss about something that is actually important and then to put one's money where one's mouth is. We're a very small business; proportionately speaking, going carbon neutral cost us a lot of money – other guys I know who run businesses the same sort of size would have spent the money on a Rolex or as the down payment on a Porsche. And just for the record, I don't have either of those, nor anything like them.

Since becoming carbon neutral, two of our clients have started working on their own carbon neutral projects, and in the last six months or so this whole topic has become increasingly important in the conversations I have with potential new clients. We don't use it as a weapon to win business but to give an indication of the sort of company we are and the sort of clients we prefer to work with.

It's precisely because of the position we (and companies like us) occupy that we ought to be doing this – the fact that we represent technology companies seems to be being put forward as a reason to do nothing by one person posting comments here. For me, it's a good reason to do something.

I admit it does piss me off a bit that we cop juvenile remarks like some of those posted here; some people would be happier if everyone was as indolent as they were. But that's the industry we work in, I guess.

As for there being other tech PRs that are carbon neutral – name one… Can't…? That's because there aren't any. And *that's* shameful. If a bloke running a small PR company in Reading can do it, why can't anyone else?


Sean Fleming
Managing Director
Clarity PR

....the world's leading.... said...

You're a good man Sean...thanks for popping by. To quote your good self, "a bit wordy, perhaps" but we admire your passion and commitment.

Dirk Singer said...

Fair play to Clarity for being carbon neutral and environmentally aware.

But as for Sean's challenge to name another consultancy in the sector doing the same, I'll point you in Sarah Ogden and Caraline Brown's direction over at Midnight:

http://www.midnight.co.uk/sustainability.html

Sarah Ogden said...

I take my hat off to Clarity for making such efforts towards being a socially responsible business. Mindight Communications was carbon balanced in 2002. This was a result of a wider corporate social responsibility policy we developed. We didnt stop there either and have since ensured our ethics permeate all aspects of the business including targeting like minded clients. In fact, Guy Clapperton at The Guardian last week noted our efforts. Thanks Guy!