29 May 2007

Yankee doodle hand shandy...

I've been away. But you knew that. I'm back now though.

I was in America. There's good news and there's bad news.

The good news is that we're still much, much better than they are. Particularly at this PR lark. Honestly. It sounds like a really flippant thing to say (flippant? Me?) but I swear it's true. For various reasons (that we've alluded to before) we have to work much, much harder to generate genuinely effective results. We're more creative anyway (as Amanda at Strumpette has also been pointing out) but a tougher environment pushes us even further.

It's a societal thing. When things are designed so that the minimum effort achieves an acceptable result, people get lazy. When they get lazy they get fat; when they get fat they find it harder to move so they get even lazier...they're trapped in a vicious circle.

When you're a PR who controls access to the senior execs in an NYSE or Nasdaq-listed corporation, it's very easy to get lazy. When you have to scrap tooth and nail for interest in a foreign company amongst an indifferent press (at best) it's essential that you get creative. And creativity fuels great PR.

I'll tell you what else I found out. The US is really struggling with social media. Which is tricky, because they're also obsessed by it. Digital this, digital that...blogs, mash-ups, provider pass along...they're full of buzzwords, that's for sure, but they're not doing it very well.

This is societal too. People often talk about the great service that you get in the States; the "have a nice day" philosophy. It's true. In every shop, bar, restaurant, taxi...crikey, even public convenience...that I walked into I was greeted enthusiastically by someone wanting to know how I was feeling or how they could help (by stepping the fuck away from me was the answer in the gents, in case you're wondering...).

The thing is, it's false. None of them were genuinely that interested in how I was feeling...they were interested in how much I might spend in their shop. You can see the lack of conviction in their eyes...these are just words used to start a dialogue that might lead to a transaction.

And this is the central problem that our American cousins are having with social media; they don't do genuine conversation. They just can't bring themselves to let go of the central message enough ("I'm here to sell you stuff") to come across as authentic. I tried it in a few places and you don't have to scratch much from the surface of a personal conversation with a member of staff to realise that there's absoutely no substance to it.

I've heard a few times recently about UK social media specialists working for US PR groups who are spending all their time flying back and forth across the Atlantic to help their Amercian colleagues "get" authentic social media. I'm not sure that they will (but I'm here and ready to help).

One of the presenters at the event, when espousing the need to get digital in everything we do, said that "community is an art." I'd agree (funnily enough, she was a Brit). But then, as we know, all the greatest artists are European.

Interesting stuff though.


What's that? The bad news?

Oh yes. The bad news is...they've still got all the money.

15 comments:

Ben Schmark said...

You mean to say there are people that phone you up, and ask how you are, but don't really care?

What sort of a terrible world do we live in?

For christ sake, won't somebody think of the children?

james warren said...

You're right TWL, of course. But "community is an art"? I may have grasped the wrong end of the stick but community is as community does. THere's no art to it. A community is the sum of its parts. Apologies to the egg-sucking grannies in the audience, but to succeed digitally (in social media terms at least), its about losing control and diving in. To understand a community it's necessary to join that community. It helps if you actually want to join and/or care about what the community is trying to achieve (if you don't, find someone that does). And in order to be accepted into a community you need to be in a position to contribute to the community and play an active role (with independence, commitment, passion and all those other great British attributes). In simplistic terms, you need to be deeply involved in your client's business and the emotional point of view of their stakeholders (or, even better, you need to be in-house). All of which sounds a bit too 'engaged' for some of our US cousins (but not those at Weber Shandwick, natch).

Oh FFS - there I go, prattling on again. But my airmiles balance is looking very healthy. Do I know you?

Ben Schmark said...

Thank god we live in a world where everyone is genuinely interested in how we are.

There are no phonies in British PR.

Hooray for the Empire! And King George!

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

Yes, yes James, I know what you're saying. In fact, when I look back at my scribbled notes, I've put "Only people in the community can engage with the community" which is like what you're saying, only much more succinct.

But I do think there's an art to feeding and nurturing a community (which is essentially what the presenter meant). I mean, wouldn't you agree that there's an art to creating content that people want to read and comment on? You can't just chuck any old bollocks up there, however passionate and/or informed you might be.

Obviously we're the exception that proves the rule.

weaselboy said...

any old bollocks

Helena said...

If Americans are so, like, totally dumb, why do so many Brits copy their every fart?

Like d'uh! As the brits say these days. And San Fernando Valley girls said, oh, about 20 years ago.

There are no creative people in London. London's just the european distribution centre for American ideas.

If anyone has an original idea in England, they'll keep their mouths shut, otherwise the rest of the zombies will descend on them in anger. Think of the closing scene of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I went to the offices at Write Image once, and I swear they had pods under the desk.

Don't go to sleep.

james warren said...

Of course TWL. Succint was never my middle name (St John on the other hand is - but that's a whole different story).

My point is there's no art in creating relevant/compelling content if you're already part of a community - it's 'what you do'. If you need to treat it as art (ie deliberately set out to create something), then i'd argue you're on the wrong track. Or am i just splidding hairs?

Anonymous said...

Not 100% true. I'm a UK PR working for a US group and our offering over there is one of the best in the business.

Everything else you say about Americans is 100% true though - and even my American client agrees with me!

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

James - "My point is there's no art in creating relevant/compelling content if you're already part of a community"

Of course there is! It's called decent writing.

It doesn't matter how central to the community you are, if you can't present your thoughts in a compelling manner, the person that can - even if less qualified in the subject matter than you - will win out in attracting attention. That's why top hacks and authors are where they are.

Anonymous said...

Helena dear, do pipe down. You're being rather brash and American - all rather unsavoury.

james warren said...

isn't it ironic (don't you think) then that beautifully crafted social media copy - and this is a gross generalisation, i concede - is regarded with scepticism by most online communities? it's almost as if it were 'marketing'. i'd argue it's not the quality of writing that helps *in this environment* but rather what you have to say and your 'right' to say it. and yes, i concede, that there is perhaps an art to that. but it's also common sense, isn't it? anyway, i imagine that the presenter (at microsoft, perchance?) wasn't necessarily referring to blogs, but rather broader community based activity, like mashups etc. which isn't really about writing at all. *grabs coat*

Anonymous said...

Well observed TWL.

I've often mused as to how the US got this reputation for 'customer service' given that they're so bloody awful at it. The main reason, I reckon, is that they keep telling themselves they're great and as so few Americans travel outside their borders, they believe it to be so. I'm always appalled at what a miserable experience shopping in the US is...it's only the cheap dollar that draws me back.

And I think you're right to draw a parallel between this lack of customer responsiveness and the US difficulty with social media. If you're not prepared to engage with someone on a one-to-one basis then who can you engage with a wider community?

Anonymous said...

It's funny how obsessed the Brits are about being better than the Americans. Seems almost as if we need to find fault in them in order to avoid the fact that they kick our butts in business and sports. Let's face it, we are tiny nation saved only by the fact that we have a good financial services industry and a bunch of oil fields. When the oil runs out we'd better hope that bankers are still making their millions or there will be precious little tax revenue to fund all the social programmes Brits are addicted to.

You are right of course to say that the Americans don't seem as genuine as the Brits. But they also don't complain like the Brits do about every small sodding problem.

Oh and one last point - they don't give a damn about whether they are better or worse than the people in the UK. They do care about the fact that they control all the money...

Fiona Blamey said...

Even if they 'get' it, Americans are still nervous of genuine online conversation because of its annoying tendency to turn into lawsuits, regulatory investigations and the like. It's not so much fun having a public conversation if every word you say has to be accompanied by a 1,000-word Safe Harbor statement.

Anonymous said...

From one anonymous to another

"It's funny how obsessed the Brits are about being better than the Americans."
We're not

"Seems almost as if we need to find fault in them in order to avoid the fact that they kick our butts in business and sports."
Such as football, cricket, rugby, rowing...and in what type of business exactly?

"Let's face it, we are tiny nation saved only by the fact that we have a good financial services industry and a bunch of oil fields."
Aren't we forgetting about the arms? and all that tourism dosh?

"When the oil runs out we'd better hope that bankers are still making their millions or there will be precious little tax revenue to fund all the social programmes Brits are addicted to."
Shome mishtake shurely? Everyone knows all the richies have tax loopholes and offshore accounts thus aren't actually paying the vast amounts of tax you seem to imagine they are.

"You are right of course to say that the Americans don't seem as genuine as the Brits. But they also don't complain like the Brits do about every small sodding problem."
Er, when was the last time you compared a whiny american to a whiny brit? Who is stereotypically well known for reserve, patience and getting on with things?