27 February 2007

A face for podcasting….

With its sparkly new studio, VNU has gone podcasting crazy and it’s a tremendous amount of fun.

One can only imagine what Denis Norden might be able to dig up from the VNU vaults, but we’ve already noticed some of the funniest (toe-curling) podcasts have been removed from the site.

Robert Jaques and Madeline Bennett give some fine examples of why print journos shouldn’t do broadcast, while Iain Thomson proves himself to be a beautiful mix of John Craven, a Radio 4 shipping forecast announcer and Ronnie Barker.

Just take yesterday’s example, where Iain’s headlines include:

“Quality of UK broadband standards are falling: customers are revolting.”

“Nintendo Wii dominates console wars: A third of US and Japanese homes will have a wee by 2011.”

Informs, educates and entertains that Thomson - give him his own show….
The minty fresh breath of IT management….

The bright and very shiny ComputerworldUK launched today, only a day behind schedule.

In a non-na├»ve, non-eco way, it’s green. Very green. And red. Which will confuse colour-blind techies (who surely electrocute themselves on a regular basis), but please gypsy queens (who, presumably, are pretty happy anyway having never paid any tax).

Perhaps best of all, the ComputerworldUK logo is nice and easy to copy, which is great for coverage round ups. The editorial copies and pastes cleanly as well, which saves valuable ‘re-formatting in Word’ time. Thanks Mike, a God send. The search engine seems pretty snappy, which is one in the eye for the FT and Silicon among others.

Least good is the irritating-beyond-belief pop-up adverts that blast the second paragraph out of the way just as you’re half a line into it.

Clearswift and HP have clearly decided that there’s advertising ROI to be proved by getting in early, while Samsung’s early spend is hard to detect. It’s suitably 2.0, with RSS, Digg, Slashdot, Del.ic.io.us and Reddit (if you’re confused with this cutting jargon, surf like billy-o to the CIPR’s website for explanations).

Although it currently carries a fair bit of generic IDG content (a bonus as interviews with Jeremy Kirk will now appear in the UK too), it has a strong editorial team, headed by Mike Simons of CW fame, where Helen Beckett made her name too. For those old enough to remember Information Week, Stuart Lauchlan and Sarah Aryanpur return after respective spells freelancing and copywriting at (the no-longer)-August-One. Chris Mellor of the risibly-titled StorAge is also on board, along with IDG stalwart Peter Judge and card-carrying leftie Tash Shifrin (OK, just guessing about Tash but, Christ, she used to write for The Guardian).

As for editorial tone, tone towards PRs (thus far cordial) and general standing in the marketplace, we’ll have to see. But, given the majority of the technology world is US-based, and Computerworld is a lead title there, it should do fairly well.

26 February 2007

Personality PR...where to stop...

It's always a quandary. Your company has an enigmatic CEO...charismatic, great personality, brushes up nicely...so the obvious thing is to indulge in some personality PR. Profiles in the trades - maybe even a national - put a human face on the company. But what happens when a better offer comes along and she clears off? You're a bit stuck then. It's a tough one.

The other question, of course, is where do you draw the line? The CEO's an obvious choice...head tech guy too possibly...CFO? Perhaps. UK Press Advisor..? Umm, probably not. Unless you're BitDefender, that is.

A UK tech hack's been in touch. He received an email today with the title: "News from BitDefender - appointment of UK press advisor" and he's less than impressed. Not least because this was the first line of the email:

"BitDefender, an award winning provider of antivirurs software and data security solutions, has set up a UK press centre"

Spot the deliberate mistake...

The new UK press advisor is called Mike Ottewell, an "experienced PR consultant, specialising in IT and business management technologies."

We have to say that we have some sympathy with BitDefender. We've been there...you've got a new PR person on board, a new contact for the press, and you're keen to let them know he's around. But our hack isn't sure it's the best approach. Over to him:

"This email was sent out by none other than experienced PR consultant Mike Ottewell himself, who is clearly so good at his job he thinks such self-publicity will be well received on newsdesks the length and breadth of the country.

"In fact he was clearly so busy blowing his own trumpet he didn't stop to proof read his own email - spot the glaring typo in the very first sentence he ever wrote for his new client. Still, "antivirus" is a tricky word and it's not like he's going to have to write it much... working for an antivirus company and all.

"For somebody who is such an "experienced PR consultant" it seems incredible it didn't dawn on Ottewell that journalists really don't give a rat's ass when a company announces a new press spokesperson (with the utmost respect). It certainly isn't news, which is how this non-story was billed. If he was just updating our contact lists fair enough, but he billed this as "news" - thus setting himself a very low bar in terms of what passes as news for BitDefender (there's nothing like managing your client's expectations).

"But the truth is, as long as a press contact is good at their job (and the above already puts a question mark over Ottewell) and are able to communicate with the press well, that's all that matters to us simple journalists. For the same reason nobody was writing stories about the valets at the Oscars or the woman who buys the tit-tape at London fashion week, good PR people are not the story."

Right then. We'll bear that in mind.

23 February 2007

Welcome to the world of social moaning...

Tom Murphy points this morning to a new venture from his "former colleague" Andy West. As Murphy used to wander the halls of Text 100, we can only presume that this is the same diminutive Andy West who, as we reported last May, left Text 100 under a small cloud and on the end of some acerbic comments from CEO Aedhmar Hynes, like this one:

"...his ability to charm is not just down to his ability to make friends quickly but also his reputation for going the extra mile. For a man with such short legs that extra mile was all the longer and therefore all the more appreciated."

At the time, we thougth Hynes was being a bit harsh. As it happens, since then, we've heard some stories about Mr West that make us think Hynes was well within her rights to have a little dig. But that's for another time. For now, West seems to have got up, dusted himself down and jumped on the nearest bandwagon. Welcome to Friction.TV.

I'll sum it up for you. It's a website where you can upload videos of yourself (I know, I know) moaning about things that annoy you. And then people can rate the videos, using a one to five star rating system. The website says, "All the best ideas are simple"...we say, "All the simplest ideas are someone else's..."

Actually, we might be being unfair. The idea isn't just to moan, it's about sparking a debate about something that you're passionate about. It's just that many of the video's currently featured (which seem to involve West, his family and his friends) start with phrases such as: "What really gets my goat is when..." and "I really hate it when..." and "Isn't it annoying when..."

Lots of them also seem to mention "Mr Blair" in the first couple of sentences. Hell, even Boris Johnson's on the site, posing the crushingly predictable question: "What on earth is Tony Blair still doing in Downing Street?" Here's West himself in action, spouting off about defence spending.

In fact, we think that West and his fellow entrepreneurs have missed a trick. Rather than spend their own time and money creating the site, they should have simply approached the Daily Mail directly and offered to "social media" its letters' page...

We do, however, see an opportunity for the PR industry. The website tells us that: "Our promise is that your content will not be edited in any way; nor will it be subjected to any censorship (so long as it is within the law!)" So, what you need to do is knock together a little video to which your clients can respond. Here are some ideas:

"What really gets my goat is when my power supply gets interrupted. If only there was a cost-effective solution to the problem..."

"I've been using the same Windows operating system for about five years now and it annoys me that there isn't a new version..."

"It really annoys me that I keep exponentially expanding the amount of electronic information I produce and yet I have nowhere to put the bloody stuff! Wouldn't it be great if there was an easy solution for storing it..."

"I'm a businessman with customers. I have relationships with them. I'd like to manage them, but..."

"I get so angry when little men try and make a quick buck out of social media by rehashing what's already out there..."

It's oddly compelling viewing though.

22 February 2007

CIPR...down with the kids...

The Chartered Insitute of Public Relations (CIPR), as its most modern of monikers suggests, is an organisation at the very cutting edge of PR practice. Not much newfangled stuff gets past the CIPR without it knowing. Which is why - only years after we've all been doing it - has it today published its social media guidelines.

The guidelines have been described to TWL by various PR blogging heavyweights as "crap" and "all a bit rubbish". TWL isn't a member of the CIPR, so we don't have to adhere to them, but you might be so you'd better read them. And then forget them.

Probably the best summation I can find of the CIPR's credibility in advising on social media issues comes straight from the fingertips of its President, Lionel Zetter who today, in his blog post announcing the guidelines, says:

"So blog away like billy-o, and work those wickis. But keep it real, and keep it honest!"

Oh dear Lord.
That's a relief...

You'll all be delighted to hear that, in PRWeak's debate a couple of evenings ago - you know, the one it's been trying to shift tickets to for weeks - the motion "PR has a duty to tell the truth" was well and truly defeated. I say well and truly. What I mean is by 138 votes to 124. So quite close.

Nevermind the boring details, it's a glorious win for half-truths, deceptions and good old smoke and mirrors.

As you were, PR industry, as you were...

21 February 2007

Can you help..?

OK, so it's not "I'm having sex with my husband's best mate...and his wife" but a reader has sent Auntie TWL a missive with a desperate plea for help:

Dear TWL,

I've been working as an in-house PR manager for 3 years now and our clippings supplier is Press Index. Last year, I noticed that the cost of our clippings had doubled over a period of about 4 months. While I would love to be able to say that this was due to the efforts of our PR agency, sadly this was not the case - it was instead due to Press Index adding vast quantities of irrelevant online titles (especially those that just run press releases verbatim) and failing to apply our account filters properly. I estimate this is costing us several thousand pounds a year, even after I have tried to take steps to fix this. I would be interested to hear whether your other readers report similar frustrations?

I would like to change supplier but having looked at Romeike, Durrants etc, sadly I think PI are the best of a bad bunch. What do readers think about getting the PR agency to manage monitoring themselves, or using facilities like Factiva and RSS as a replacement? We do have both these services, however I am nervous they will miss important pieces.

I'm sure you have some views dear viewers! Please feel free to use our comment facility to get them off your lovely chests.

Personally, I think that Press Index should adopt "Best of a Bad Bunch" as its new corporate strapline...

14 February 2007

You ain't nobody until you've been picketed...

Surely a laudable aim for any self-respecting PR agency...human rights activists on the doorstep. Full story here.

You haven't? You're not working hard enough.

13 February 2007

Company name dyslexia...

Flicking through the pages of last week's PRWeak, I got well confused. I got to that bit where people send in case studies of the work they've been doing - you know, budget knocked down, results knocked up - and there was one about this funny little battery called USBCELL. The client was called Moixa Energy and the agency, get this, was called Ranieri PR!

"Ranieri PR!" I gasp. "Look, look...PRWeak has managed to spell Rainier wrong! What a bunch of numpties."

But there it was again in the editorial...Ranieri PR. So I checked it out and it's true! There's a tech PR company called Ranieri PR and it's a completely different company from dear old Rainier PR. Different offices, the lot. Different towns even. How extraordinary.

And then you know how it is when you first hear about something and suddenly it's all over the place. Well, Ive just received an email from a journalist about Ranieri's work for Moixa and its USBCELL. The journo in question is feeling very special indeed, because when Ross from Ranieri PR wanted to send out a media alert to his very closest media contacts, he put all 256 of them (yes, 256) in the Cc: line of his email! And now they've started replying to all.

Still, handy for me...I've now got a bang up to date list of UK journo emails.
When their crisis becomes your crisis...

Client companies must be laughing these days, mustn't they? Back in the day, when the shit hit the fan because they's cocked up, they used to take the fallout. But not anymore. In today's PR-savvy world, when a business gets in trouble it's no problem...attention immediately falls onto the bunch of PR flacks hired to deal with the issue rather than on the issue itself.

Witness the City Diary in today's Times...more interested in the PR puffery spewed by Hill and Knowlton's MD of Issues & Crisis (Crises, surely?) Tim Luckett than in the potential epidemic of bird flu released from Bernard Matthews' farm.

Mind you, with Luckett stating that there's a "brand recovery strategy to be implemented" perhaps the Times is well within its rights to take the piss...and now he's not returning calls.

That'll get worse before it gets better...
3GSM themes…

There is a general consensus that the two big themes of 3GSM this year are mobile broadband and the mobile internet. The FT’s mobile broadband/internet focus is all stolidly businesslike with talk of mobile enterprise applications, management and security. The Guardian is typically more fey with whimsical notions of social networking, search, music and TV. Both the BBC and The Guardian are interested in embryonic telco worthiness in the developing world.

But precious few have picked up on the over-riding themes at 3GSM; fear, loathing and blame.

The fear of middle managers careering away from the M4 corridor as they fail to deliver the level of coverage from last year.

The loathing from senior executives, who expected the FT but find themselves with a 24 year old reporter on a third rate telco mag.

The blame redirected on a hapless AE, abandoned by account managers that were too scared to attend. Cast adrift from agency/practice leads ‘chasing new business’ in Barcelona bars at the expense of those that they could actually impress.

Ruthless senior execs, pallid in-house wannabes, freeloading senior agency staff and horribly exposed agency juniors. The broken promises, the shattered hopes, the drunken advances, the naivety preyed upon. The over-bearing stench of self-interest.

God it’s good to be here…

11 February 2007

They say AO, do we say goodbye..?

If you read the Q&A with Tim Dyson, Next Fifteen CEO, that we posted not so long ago you’d be well within your rights to assume that the group of PR companies Dyson runs is doing pretty well. Growing revenues, increasing profits, new offices and the odd seemingly successful acquisition. And you’d be right…even the share price seems to have picked, jumping around 50% over the last six months.

Here at TWL, however, there’s always been one little piece of the group’s jigsaw that sticks out like a sore thumb (if we’re not mixing our metaphors too much…): August One (AO to its acquaintances).

August One. A company named after the date it started operating in 1999…something that in itself shows such a dearth of creative thinking that it perhaps should’ve been a clearer portent for the performance of the company over the following years. A business which has steadily appeared to lose quality people and clients; shrinking until…well…until we think that there’s a very good chance that it won’t make its next namesake.

It’s difficult to understand how the various CEO’s of August One have managed to drive the company into the ground. After all, for a “start-up” the company had a pretty healthy birth. Formed when Text 100’s UK operation was split in two, AO took with it the Microsoft UK PR account…at the time one of the biggest PR accounts in the country. In any sector. And when the performance of AO’s consumer sister agency Joe Public Relations stumbled, it was quickly decided that JPR should be absorbed into AO. You don’t have to speak to many ex-JPR employees to hear how poorly that process was managed… Very quickly pretty much all the JPR crew had jumped ship, along with the majority of the ex-JPR client base. Exit stage left one decent consumer PR brand.

Of course, we’re not privy to details of the company’s finances. Not in any detail at least. However, what we can do is review the fee income declared by AO’s in the PRWeak Top 150 league tables since the company started. They paint a clear picture of a business that has never managed year-on-year growth; a business that started with a declared fee income of £6.2m in the PRWeak Top 150 league table of 2001; a figure which has been eroded year after year.

Here’s the sequence:

2001 table - £6.2m fee income, 85 staff
2002 - £4.9m, 67 staff
2003 - £4.6m, 60 staff
2004 - £4.6m, 67 staff
2005 - £3.9m, 49 staff
2006 - £2.3m, 23 staff.

To paraphrase a Formula One team owner’s onetime gag (and perhaps one for Dyson at the next AGM): “How do you make a small fortune in PR? Start with a large one and give it to August One…”

OK, so that last figure takes into account the moving of the Microsoft business into sister agency Inferno but equally, the 2004 numbers reflect the absorption of Joe Public’s clients and people into AO (and it still only managed flat fee income). Over those years AO had opened (and closed) offices in Sydney, Auckland, Hong Kong, Paris and Edinburgh. Its current staff (estimated at about 15) are housed, ironically, in the old JPR offices in Hammersmith. OK, so the turn of the century was a tough time for many agencies, but August One has never got over it, unlike its stablemates in the Next Fifteen group.

Speaking to those that have worked at AO – and indeed some that still do – common themes seem to appear. The company was top heavy, loaded up with expensive, senior staff and in an effort to justify that structure, over-complicated its proposition. Its pitches were full of strategic (and pricey) services which scared the crap out of prospects; for a long time AO had a risible record of winning new business. Then, in a reaction, the company apparently started over-promising; selling itself cheaply just to win clients and, inevitably, seeing its margins squeezed to vanishing point.

Clearly, responsibility for a company’s performance ultimately falls on the management team’s shoulders. AO has had a number of CEOs –all of them long-term Next Fifteen group employees. Tariq Khwaja, Stuart Handley, Sophie Brooks…all have had their moment in the big chair and moved on. Sarah Howe’s now at the helm, with Sally Hetherington a deputy MD. Few people that have been involved with AO feel that the company has ever had any truly inspirational leadership.

The only surprising thing is that Dyson and the Next Fifteen board have allowed AO to lurch on for so long. Indeed, when the Microsoft business was shipped over to sister agency Inferno, that might’ve been the sensible time to call it a day. Though, of course, the Microsoft income staying within the group probably supported a stay of execution and AO was allowed to try and re-positioning itself as a generalist agency. It hasn’t been a success. More than that, now that Next Fifteen owns the majority of Lexis PR – surely the agency that AO would have aspired to replicate – there seems little point in stringing it out any further. Surely absorbing any clients of worth (and willingness) and people of value into Lexis would now be the most viable option?

We do hear that there are changes afoot. Watch this space. Could it be the end of the rAOd..?

09 February 2007

Busting Blockbuster's balls...

IT hack monolith Chris Green is not happy with Blockbuster, the low-end video rental people. He's not happy at all. So he's written a letter to the company's MD. You can read it here...and please do, it's great.

You can't argue with any of Green's points. He does offer some fairly forthright opinions on the quality of staff in Blockbuster..."your consistently rude and brain-dead staff"...which, again, is probably fair enough.

However, I do foresee a potential issue. Having been less than glowing in his comments about the employees of his local Ruislip High Street branch, he than confirms that he will be visiting this weekend to settle his outstanding fines. Given the fact that pictures of Green's chubby little face are freely available on t'internet, do you think they might be waiting for him..?

08 February 2007

VNU...going, going...


Word on the chilly streets of Soho last night was that Incisive Media has bought VNU's entire UK operation, lock, stock and smoking servers. 3i are looking to hang onto the Dutch stuff and sell off all of VNU's other properties. Much dusting down of CVs in France and Germany this morning, no doubt...

No news as yet on whether it'll lead to any redundancies on the ground in Blighty, but it's got to be particularly sweet for Incisive's CEO Tim Weller...back in 1982 he started his career at VNU, working with John Barnes.

So Weller gets to live the dream of owning the company he used to work for. "Now I'm the boss, things are going to be a bit different round here..." he was probably heard to be muttering in his sleep last night...

06 February 2007

72 (what's the) Point..?

There's a PR agency called 72 Point that I'd never heard of. It calls itself a "national news and PR specialist" and has a huge headline on its homepage which says "GUARANTEED COVERAGE OR YOUR MONEY BACK!" (yes, it's red and in capital letters on the website too).

It also has a blog and, presumably using the very same skills that will "GUARANTEE YOU COVERAGE OR YOUR MONEY BACK!" has decided to use one of oldest PR industry stories in the book to drive some traffic (and before you say it, yes, we're obviously happy to oblige...). It's the old hacks vs. flacks battle. As Point 72 itself says:

"PR people! Fighting back! All guns blazing! No more Mr or Mrs Nice Guy! Yes, the return leg of the epic PR-versus-journalists battle starts right here!"

Basically, Point 72 posted a bunch of verbatim comments from hacks a little while ago under the titel of "Top tips for PR people from the mouths of journalists" which were, unsurprisingly, the usual moans and gripes interspersed with a handful of ridiculous ones. Of course, the flacks were up in arms and fired back with their own salvo. Point 72 has posted these under the title of "Top tips for journalists from the mouths of PR people" and which are, unsurprisingly, the usual moans and gripes interspersed with a handful of ridiculous ones.

Actually, the flack comments are a far more interesting read. Interesting in the sense that they sound like a bunch of bleating cry babies who should maybe think about doing something else for a living. Like caring for the elderly. Or being librarians.

Get this: “Don’t be rude - if we call/email you and you’re not interested please be polite. Calling grumpy journalists can be very scary and can really knock the confidence of the juniors.”

And this: “If you’re rude, unreasonable and insensitive, expect not to be given the story that you really do want, we do have them sometimes.”

And stuff like this: “I would love it if PRs went ‘on strike’ for a week, to see how many of the rude, lazy so-and-so’s are actually capable of thinking up, researching and writing THEIR OWN stories, without the help of so many brilliant PRs who usually just end up doing their jobs for them while they pontificate on high about how useless we all are.”

It's worth checking out...though it's a depressing read. I have no idea what purpose it serves. It's not even funny.

01 February 2007

Late payment...it's a, it's a...sin...

Late payment, eh? Crucifies your cash-flow. Those big, successful wealthy companies thinking they can hang on for a few days...weeks...months even before paying their suppliers. Don't they realise that you've got financial commitments too? They just don't seem to care...always happy to squeeze the little guy...after all, what's he gonna do? He needs the business.

I can see all you agency folk sitting there enthusiastically nodding your heads (I can you know...it's a new widget). But wait up. It's YOU I'm talking about, not your clients.

Oh yes, it seems that the kings of the late payment are fast becoming agencies themselves. They don't like taking it, but they can dish it out. First to whine to the client about overdue invoices, they're happy to do the very same thing to their own suppliers...particularly the freelancers upon which they are becoming increasingly dependent (if the PRCA and PRWeak is to be believed).

Too often these days freelancers are wasting time dealing with agency bean counters over late payment. Don't believe me? Check out this little email exchange between a senior freelancer who'd been chasing payment for a while and a number-cruncher at a top London consultancy (we've cut the headers and reversed it to make it more readable):

Bean counter: Sorry you have not received a response to your emails.

I would point out that our payment terms are 60 days from the date of invoice, however I will arrange for this to be paid on next week's payment run which is on Wednesday.

Freelancer: Thanks.

Your payment terms may be 60 days, but that's never been made clear to me, my invoice clearly states 30 days and my previous work with you has been paid within, or very close to, 30 days.

I would have thought, therefore, that when you spot a difference between a supplier's payment terms and your own it would be good business practice (and common courtesy at the very least) to contact the supplier and discuss the difference. Would you agree?

Anyway, I look forward to receiving payment next week.

Bean counter: We have hundreds of invoices passing through the department every week, your suggestion is simply not practical.

Freelancer: Really? And your company being one of the world's largest communications companies. Remarkable.

Bean counter: Sarcasm rarely gets suppliers very far!

Freelancer: I wasn't being sarcastic; I am honestly amazed that an organisation which has the primary role of communicating clearly with millions of people can't put a process in place to communicate with a relatively small group of suppliers. But I guess it's different when you're being paid, rather than doing the paying?

There's little point in continuing this conversation.

Are you a freelancer who's been on the end of an agency's late-payment policy? If so, we want to know about it: theworldsleading@yahoo.co.uk (anonymously, obviously). And if any one agency gets mentioned more than, say, three times, we'll happily name and shame them.