Has there ever been a more perfect PR topic than the smartphone?

If you work in PR you get used to seeing the same themes cropping up year after year (cloud, anyone?), and while they are not quite old-hat for us PR bods, we are certainly becoming very well-versed in them indeed. What it means in reality is that a lot of people are talking about the same thing and the same issues, so you have to work extra hard to come up with more creative and proactive ideas for clients.

But smartphones, well, they are just the gift that keeps on giving. Recent news from Ofcom shows they are more popular than ever with internet use on smartphones growing seven times faster than on laptops and desktops. And in a business sense, they are now deemed the most important tool for running a business. Smartphones are also one of those rare B2B technologies that actually cross the business-consumer divide which makes them even more interesting to readers. So, although it sometimes feels like every business in the world is talking about smartphones and mobile devices (they probably are), their ubiquitous nature means there is always plenty of stuff for us PR folk to talk about.

Being so pervasive therefore results in the vast majority of our PR content and campaigns having a strong mobile angle. It also further opens up areas we can talk about because smartphones are so important to the business world. As a result, they give rise to lots of other, linked issues like data security; which is a shape-shifting constant companion of the smartphone. As smartphones continue to get harder, better, faster, stronger, the issues constantly change – which for PR purposes is great, as it gives rise to emerging topics such as second-screening.

Smartphones are one of those technologies that we all here at Spark personally use on an hourly basis so we can get even more excited about them than normal (and we get excited about the weirdest technologies, let me tell you). The beauty of mobile is that it has so many facets we’re never short of something to say about it; like whether consumers prefer mobile apps or mobile websites, the average number of workers using their own smartphones, thesecurity of mobile wallets, or the importance of a mobile first strategy.

So, after my paean to that perfect PR technology, it does beg the question – what’s next? Will Google Glass be the next indispensable business tool, will devices we can swallow become the next omnipresent technology or will driverless cars be the de facto vehicle on driveways around the world? Whatever the answer, it’ll certainly be fun finding out and we’ll no doubt have plenty to say about it too.

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Former FT journalist, Tom Foremski, recently wrote a piece asking if PR can be automated? It’s a bit of a head-scratcher of an article that compares how the media industry ‘has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world and forced to adopt new media technologies (has it, has it really?), with PR’s apparent lack of technological prowess.

The basic premise is that PR doesn’t use technology to further itself and that PR’s use of technology extends only to ‘a Twitter hashtag and a dashboard of likes and shares’. The upshot of which, according to Foremski is that PR can’t grow because it can’t scale; in essence, PR growth means hiring more people. Foremski thinks this is a problem that makes PR companies vulnerable as they can’t ‘automate the technologies of promotion’. Now that’s a phrase – automate the technologies of promotion. I don’t know about you but I’m picturing I-Robot-esque rows of fresh PRobots ready to bash out a press release.

Let’s look at that then, writing a press release. The much maligned and unloved press release that despite its own bad press is still a valuable PR tool that both journalists’ and PRs’ alike make use of. To write a good press release, you need knowledge of your client, the industry, issues affecting the industry, product knowledge, technical and often complex knowledge, and the ability to tell a story, the ability to know what resonates with human beings. You need nuance. Machines and technologies don’t understand nuance, which you’ll know all too well if you’ve ever tried to edit a document in Microsoft Word.

So I have to ask, is it such a bad thing that PR can’t grow unless more people become involved? Lest we forget the P in PR stands for public. It is all about people after all – on both sides of the fence, those communicating and those listening. The PR world is too often accused that it’s a clone-like, drone-like industry that churns out the same out old stories that aren’t either interesting or newsworthy. Would technology do a better job? People tell stories, not machines. Besides, as any PR knows, we already have enough trouble trying to answer the ‘what do you do for a living’ question. I don’t want to have to start throwing automate the technologies of promotion in there as well.

Google Pluses and Minuses

Most of us probably can’t imagine a day without Google, but how about the poor cousin of its portfolio, Google+? I’ve always had an interest in G+, even having faithfully signed up back in the early days when it was an invitation-only ghost town. I’ve dutifully updated my profile when required, made myself login every week to look active and shared the odd article. But I confess I forget it is there most of the time – what with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, my social network cup runneth over. So I’ve taken a little time to reacquaint myself with G+ and have a closer look at it.

G+ does seem to be getting more popular, so what’s driving it? Well, Google being Google, its making it virtually impossible for businesses who want an SEO presence (and let’s be honest, what business doesn’t) to not be on G+. Additionally, G+ is now increasingly used for authorship verification, meaning you need to be on it if you want to share content/make comments etc. In fact, just this week Google has announced that it is changing the YouTube comments section to be powered by G+. You will now need a G+ account to comment on YouTube and G+ will even decide the relevancy of your comment – unsurprisingly, if you’ve a strong G+ profile, your comment has more chance of being boosted above others. This is a move sure to drive even more G+ take up.

There is a mix of personal and private on G+ with company pages equally as prominent as personal profiles, which integrates nicely with the search results of course. G+ has a very smooth and clean interface which is easy to use, especially if you’re already a user of other Google products. It’s easy to re-share and to +1 (‘like’ stuff, in Facebook lexicon), which means content has a good chance of being seen by more people. Advertising is less noticeable, which makes a nice change from the other big three social networks increasingly aggressive ad strategies. You don’t even need to leave your hashtags behind on G+ as they are as much a feature of the site as on Twitter.

So all in all, I’d say G+ looks nice, feels nice, is easy to use and has some good features. But the biggest reason for being on G+, particularly if you work in technology PR? Well, with the increasingly integrated nature of digital communications and technology PR, you’re going to miss out by not being on it. G+ is becoming an increasingly important part of good SEO practice and Google’s drive towards independently curated editorial content. You’ll find many publications on there, whatever your sector; from big business to niche verticals – lots of journalists, analysts and commentators too. Finally, as it grows clients are going to be asking about G+ sooner rather than later, so now is the time to get familiar with it. So, I’m giving G+ a +1, what do you think?

 

How to win at social media with the Clintons

Here’s a post I recently wrote for the Spark blog

You may have seen recently that Hillary Clinton became the latest of the Clinton Clan to join Twitter, following in the footsteps of husband Bill and daughter Chelsea. And whichever PR pro helped Hillary launch her first tentative social footsteps was something of a genius, she may have only tweeted four times (to date), but she’s gone down a storm.

Bill and Chelsea are far more active, as are all their associated profiles which encompass their many charitable and action foundations. The Clintons have built a formidable presence on Twitter, perhaps learning from Barack Obama himself, whose social media practices have been near flawless. As a ‘brand’, the Clintons are impressive – managing to do what many businesses fail to do; build a cohesive, united, ‘joined-up’ presence on social media networks to get that all important message out there.

Social media, as we all know, is here to stay (as are the Clintons). Having a social media ‘presence’ is deemed as an almost necessity for businesses these days – and whether it is the right thing for your business or not (it isn’t always!), there are lessons to be learned from the Clintons if you’re making the jump to social.

So, what tips can companies pick up from the Clinton’s foray into the Twittersphere?

  • Make an entrance – Hillary’s inspired first tweet, a play on the #TextsFromHillary meme was a great start. Retweeted 11,042 times so far, that first tweet itself generated a whole lot of headlines and goodwill.
  • Have a sense of humour – Well done Hillary, referencing your own meme and taking‘selfies’ with your child; clever, wry and in the best of humour.
  • Choose your time wisely – Do not, under any circumstances, try to gain capital or make jokes out of tragic events (I can’t believe that even needs to be said, but sadly it does).
  • Don’t forget your profile – The 140 characters under you name is your first chance to draw the user in. Hillary’s is excellent, and that clever ‘TBD…’ ending hasn’t put those 2016 rumours to bed.
  • Be active – Now Hillary is letting the side down here a bit, but Bill and Chelsea are regular tweeters; businesses with inactive streams or infrequent updates are not engaging in the conversation which will deliver them customers.
  • Build your brand – Chelsea Clinton does this very well, her Twitter profile page has the Twitter handles of all her other associated accounts listed down the side – a good tip, make it easy for users to find your other connected networks.

Now, the Clintons were starting out with a good deal of reputation and cache already in place – very, very few businesses will have that type of expectation or welcome if they decide to go social. Building a social media following is a slow and involved process, and can’t be done half-heartedly. But whether you decide to make the social leap, or if you already have, why not strive to be like the best?

World’s worst blogger.

Well, it’s been a while. I blame my very busy work schedule and the fact I’ve moved cities four times in the past 12 months. Now here I am back in my home town of Manchester and can be regularly spotted on the Pendlino to Euston travelling between my London and home office.

No longer am I a PR newcomer but am three-ish years into my PR career, currently working as an account manager for a London based b2b tech agency. I have clients in all areas of tech; and also in telco, life sciences and engineering.

I can safely say that one of the things I love best about my job is how much I learn on a daily basis. I can talk at length about software licensing, OTTs impact on 4G networks, oil and gas exploration, application performance management and medicinal chemistry. All of which means I might be exceptionally boring but at least I’m good in a pub quiz.

I do solemnly swear that I will now blog more often.

So, you think you’ve had a bad day…?

We’ve all been there, you think you’ve had one of the worst days ever and things couldn’t get much worse. I had one of those days today in fact; everything that could go wrong, inevitably went wrong. And, coupled with a few pieces of personal bad news, I was feeling thoroughly sorry for myself by the time I got home from work.

But all this pales into significance when I think about what one of my closest friends is battling through at the moment. My very lovely friend and her family, who I met at university in Leeds, is currently experiencing something so awful, and yet with a grace and wit I cannot comprehend.

Rochelle Bugg, her sisters, and their mother, sadly lost their father and husband to illness at a young age; and earlier this year received the devastating news that her mother is suffering from an incurable brain tumour. The Bugg family are blogging about their experiences – http://thisisabuggslife.wordpress.com/ – and whilst it is oftentimes a heartbreaking read, it just about re-affirms your belief in humanity.

These three beautiful, intelligent and strong women, along with their incredible mother, are sharing their thoughts and experiences on their blog; and reminding us all that those small trials and tribulations that irk us on a daily basis, are things that are often not worth our time and effort worrying about.

I urge you to visit the Bugg family blog, and to send your positive thoughts and prayers their way. The Bugg family themselves are big advocates of positive thinking, and I’m certainly with them on that.

That old chestnut: in praise of the BBC

I’ve always had a soft spot for the BBC, I can’t help it. Despite the fact it has occasionally churned out some tosh (‘My Family’, ugh), and that recent Christmas programming seemed to have been entirely predicated on five hour long ‘Eastenders’ specials, the Beeb has been on a good run of form recently.

And thankfully, there are no adverts, which means hour-long shows are actually 60 minutes of broadcasting, not one hour of the actual show, and one hour of adverts, see ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’ Sunday night advertising marathon for proof…

Firstly, there have been some excellent documentaries over the past few weeks; including the return of the excellent Louis Theroux to the BBC, his expose of Ultra-Zionists in Israel made for jaw-dropping watching.

Andrew Neil’s investigation into the old boys club populated almost exclusively by public school alumni at the centre of British politics was pretty eye-opening too. And our public school kids got even more of a battering in a second documentary by Richard Bilton. ‘Who Gets the Best Jobs?’ was informative and stirring in equal measure. It seems what we all already suspected is true; that if you’re parents are rich, you went to a fee-paying school, and you can afford to work glamorous internships for nothing, you’re a shoe-in for a top job overseeing the great unwashed. Anyway, rant over, back to the programming.

I have to give a little thumbs up for Silent Witness too. Although occasionally requiring the suspension of disbelief, this series has been largely excellent, well acted and entertaining.

And finally, The Human Planet…brilliant, awe-inspiring stuff, the kind of thing the BBC does so well. This week’s episode featured jungle and rainforest dwelling tribes; and if you watched this show, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that was the most amazing tree house I have ever seen. I’ve been recommending this show to everyone I know.

And interestingly, I’ve been able to recommend The Human Planet online, through the much improved and much

The new BBC iPlayer layout

more social BBC iPlayer. The iPlayer’s facelift is very successful, its far easier to navigate, you can integrate your Twitter and Facebook accounts simply, can share and recommend what you’re watching or listening to, and more importantly, you can see what your friends are watching. It may have taken the BBC a while to catch on to what many of us already know, that we as individuals are far more likely to watch, listen, like or buy something that our friends are recommending to us, but they got there in the end.

My only niggle is that most of this good stuff seems to have been squirreled away on BBC2, but beggar’s can’t be choosers. So, a big well done to our favourite Auntie, I’m not even complaining about my licence fee this month!

The humble library is ‘Medicine for the soul’

I’m going to have a serious rant about libraries now; but beyond my geeky outrage there is a serious point to be made…

The inscription above the library entrance at Thebes read, ‘Medicine for the soul’, never a truer word was spoken. Reading this news that the BBC reported depressing bit of news this morning:

New Government figures show that the number of people who visit a library weekly has dropped by 32% in five years. More than 60% of us have not stepped foot in one in the last year.

I find this depressing because I am a library lover, a dying breed it seems. (As an aside, I hope students weren’t included in these figures, as they should definitely not be in that 60% who haven’t visited a library in the past year…)

The Library at Thebes

I love libraries, I love being in them, browsing the books, finding a chair and having a read, and I still go the library and get books out, even though I purchase books regularly too. One of the first things I did when I moved to Leeds (Sep 2008) was join the central and local libraries; perhaps because I always feel at home in a library wandering around the shelves. As a young child, at school and with my parents, we would visit the library every week, it was something we looked forward to and was encouraged. I’m sure there are families that still do this, but apparently not enough.

The death of the library is symptomatic of a larger problem; the anti-intellectual brigade, the waning concentration spans of younger generations, technological takeover, and general lack of love for the written word. I’ve already written about my dislike for the kindle, iPad et al, but this is something else. Libraries are not the hallowed halls of quiet reflection and study, but some sort of community centre, not solely for reading and researching, but meeting, and talking and generally being all things to all people. In an effort to attract a wildly uninterested youth, libraries have become computer and music stores, with coffee shops and meeting rooms. How are we going to take libraries seriously, and encourage love of reading and studying if libraries are losing their purpose?

I see nothing wrong with encouraging healthy reverence around books and in a library; libraries were always hallowed places when I was younger, no talking, no eating, and certainly no mobile phones, even the kids reading corner was whispered and hushed. Now modern libraries have kids sections with instruments (!), banks of computers right next to the books – where you can plug your headphones in and annoy everyone with your tinny music, stands in the lobby where people approach you with the latest community scheme, and talking is allowed, nay, encouraged! I firmly remember the stern glare from the librarian if you made a noise, ran anywhere, or generally were a little swine with an utter lack of respect.

Isnt there something to be said for encouraging kids to sit and read quietly, and absorb what they are reading? It’s good training for later life, for further study, for work, for concentrating, and simply, for learning something. Books teach you stuff kids!

And today’s worst library crime – mobile phones are allowed in certain areas. In my university library this meant the

The more 'modern' library...

lobby and stairwell areas. Doesn’t sound that bad you might say, but no one paid any attention to the rule. The majority of these well-educated young people just didn’t seem to get it and still answered a call at the top of their voice whilst strolling to the stairwell when they talked loudly enough for you to hear every word of conversation through the door. And the sound of vibrating mobile phones on desks all over the library haunts me. There were a fair number of brazen souls who would not even bother leaving their desk but just have a conversation right there, normally along the lines of:

“Are you in the library?! OMG! Me too! Wow, look at us, studying and stuff…I’ve been here ten minutes and I’m bored already. What floor are you on? OMG, get down here we can work together LOL…yeah bring Chloe! So glad you’re here too! Shall we go to the pub in a bit…”

So this probably warrants another post on students; but I’m not going to get started on that one right now…

I’m sure I sound cantankerous and unreasonable, but I just like a bit of quiet in the library….

The Changing Face of PR? Indeed.

I read an interesting article in Recruitment International Magazine this week, entitled ‘The Changing Face of PR’, its opening sentence boldly stated, “PR may be at the cusp of its evolution.”

Why? Well, the ‘digital boom’ according to the article’s author Davina Forbes, of Major Players – a Randstad owned PR and comms jobs recruitment company.

With the greatest respect to Forbes, I have to disagree with the majority of what she writes. I read, with some incredulity, “The digital boom, the birth of the media hub and the fall of the journalist may have sparked the beginnings of a new trend within the industry that could inevitably lead to a new focus for PR jobs – content.” A ‘new trend’?! Hasn’t PR always been about good content? And I’m not so sure this ‘digital boom’ is at the ‘beginning’ of its evolution, having been in full flow for a good couple of years now.

Sure, it’s been a learning curve, but the majority of PR practitioners and students I know, already work exceptionally well within the ‘new’ digital rules of PR engagement. Most are also clued up with social and digital media; having your own Twitter account and blog is a matter of course for most practitioners, and in general, these outlets are managed very well.

Talk to, or listen to, the vast majority of PR practitioners, both old and new, and they have a thorough understanding of digital/new media/social media communications. According to Forbes, “…the PR talent has the capability, perhaps it’s just a case of brushing up, particularly for those new to the industry.” This is an unfairly inaccurate representation of the skills of new entrants to the industry; especially in light of the large number of well trained and educated PR students and graduates. Many universities offer PR modules dedicated to social media and digital communication; producing industry entrants who are amongst the best practitioners of communications in a digital world.

The reasons for this are two-fold; firstly, young PR students and graduates have grown up through an age of digital communication, and are used to communicating and being communicated to across a digital medium. Secondly the overwhelming move towards teaching, training and guidance from experienced practitioners at countless numbers of university courses, traineeships and internships has consolidated this knowledge in practice.

I’m not just painting a rosy picture of the PR industry; of course there are still practitioners who stick by their traditional methods. And while traditional methods still have a key role in PR, the dinosaurs are dying out. In general, the PR industry is doing a good job of moving with the times.

It is quite astounding to read this statement, “…content generation is becoming an increasingly important skill to possess for the PR…” Content generation has always been a key skill, whatever the media outlet – print, digital, oral, visual; and PRs have always had to be good at it. As a self proclaimed ‘leading’ PR recruiter, the relatively negative view Forbes presents of the industry and its practitioners seems worryingly out of touch.

And now, from our correspondent in….

Listen to the doomsayers, and traditional journalism is dead. With the advent of The Times paywall, which no one can seem to decide if it is successful or not, and Wikileaks rising prominence, ‘stateless journalism’ according to some; then old news is dead. But this is old news in itself really, it’s been many years since print media relied on people buying their publications for revenue. I personally still buy newspapers and magazines, and think there is nothing better than flicking through the pages and soaking it up. Which is not to say I don’t read news online or via other sources, I do that all day every day. But I’m not going to stop buying newspapers, or Time, or Economist or Guardian Weekly. I like the pages in my hand.

I’m a bit more hardcore when it comes to books though, because I’m a geek, and I love to read. To me, there is nothing like holding a book in my very own hands, turning the pages, putting it on my bedside table, marking my page and not being able to wait to get back to it. Yes, I know I could do all this with a Kindle or iPad, but I’m just not interested, I love the feel of a book, and I’m not going to give up my Waterstones addiction any time soon.

There is little doubt though, that breaking news is the domain of the internet, with Twitter leading the pack. Although interestingly, Wikileaks, a firmly web-based service, announced it’s big Afghan war log leaks in print. With The Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times sharing the landmark leak. Proof then, that newspapers still have a part to play. The three papers have had this particular bit of news for months, but have spent that time analysing, documenting and presenting the information. Which would have been impossible if they had released the leaks online as soon as they had received them; once it’s out there on the web, it’s also out of control.

This also brings me to another old grumble of mine, concerning journalism and responsibility. Don’t journalists have some responsibility to national security? I thought the same thing when I blogged way way back when about senior anti-terror officer Bob Quick’s unfortunate security lapse, which this countries newspapers reported in technicolour glee. He subsequently lost his job – as the press bayed for blood, and conveniently ignored the fact that the operation he accidentally exposed was carried out safely and successfully.

Julian Assange launching the leak

UK and US sources have accused Wikileaks of having complete disregard for national security, and of having ‘blood on their hands’. Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder and chief is unapologetic, he is simply exposing a ‘truth’. But at what cost? Pertinent facts have again gone ignored by the media, the Afghan war logs are actually quite old, and document activity before new rules of engagement were introduced this year, and very few commentators have reflected on the indiscriminate behaviour of the hostile forces the coalition troops come up against. War is painful, ugly and lamentable, but that is nothing new – it’s only now it can be reported in full, graphic detail that we get a sense of it. The media have largely made up their mind in the UK that this War on Terror is an illegal failure. I’m undecided myself, but I see no reason for putting the lives of coalition troops and Afghan informers at risk, or desperately trying to highlight how immoral coalition forces are. Lest we forget that they are doing a job, and the vast majority are not murderous occupiers as portrayed; it’s a job I certainly wouldn’t like, or have to guts to do, but I respect and support completely.

Bob Quick lost his job over his widely reported blunder, Tony Hayward, on behalf of BP, would probably have had a much quieter and gentler exit were it not for the hacks, bloggers, and vociferous media attacks calling for his scalp. Will someone lost their job over the Wikileaks bombshells? Probably, Bradley Manning is the first low-ranking sacrificial lamb. Will this kind of thing happen again? Probably.

We are all journalists now, and we can all report what and when we like, and with whatever bias or viewpoint we hold. I think this is a good thing, but it’s also a little bit dangerous – there are very few boundaries left – and it’s not just chucked into the ether, this kind of leak or reportage has a direct effect on the lives of real people.

Still, I make the case for print media again, consider this blog post by a fellow Guardian Weekly reader, there is nothing like actually holding those pages in your hands.