Inspire me
14th June, 2009

These haven’t been good days for Iran and, though not nearly on the same scale, it hasn’t been a good 24 hours for CNN either.

The hashtag #CNNfail is currently reverberating around the Twittersphere as the Twitterati show their disgust for CNN’s seeming inability to give coverage to the goings on in the Middle East and, in particular, the protests occurring following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory.

As Readwriteweb reported last night:

“Hours after Iranian police began clashing with tens of thousands of people in the street, the top story on CNN.com remains peoples’ confusion about the switch from analog TV signals.”

This does seem bizarre, especially for a broadcaster that seemingly prides itself on its social media savvy and numerous Twitter accounts including CNN breaking news.

Cnet agrees:

“One would think, then, that when the idea began to percolate around Twitter that CNN was missing out on a major, historical story like the one developing in Iran, the network would have noted the discontent and done something about it.”

If nothing else (and surely just a mishap or oversight by the broadcaster) it is a sign that democratised media can hold traditional media to account in a very loud and forceful way.

The whole situation in Iran is too a sign of how social media is becoming a powerful force, even in places that don’t enjoy the same freedom of information that we often take for granted.

Mousavi‘s own Twitter feed has been an important tool for him to communicate to an underground movement and it will be interesting to see how this develops in the days and weeks ahead.

As the New York Times reports, social media and the technology that underpins it are a vital lifeblood for many in Iran, but one that is now under severe threat:

“The text messaging that is the nervous system of the opposition was shut down, along with universities, Web sites and newspapers the government regarded as hostile. Mr. Moussavi was not allowed a platform on Saturday and barely managed to get out a communiqué calling the election ‘a magic show.’”

We can only hope that Iran’s army of bloggers and Twitterers can continue to have their say. Social media is providing a powerful and compelling real-time feed of the latest incidents and events that, with or without the help of traditional media, will be heard.

IRAN: A Nation Of Bloggers from ayrakus on Vimeo.

continue reading: A voice for the voiceless (with or without CNN)...

10th June, 2009

The Twitterverse was today privy to a debate that, in pre micro-blogging days, might well have taken place behind closed doors.

The Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger and outspoken Labour MP (and blogger/Twitterer) Tom Watson engaged in a bit of tweeting on the subject of the Guardian’s treatment of Gordon Brown and Rusbridger’s own anti-Labour editorial last week:

Oh to be a fly on the wall at that morning conference (the daily meeting where the paper’s editors gather to discuss and plan the day’s coverage).

Later, Rusbridger also confirmed that Watson would be writing for the paper tomorrow as well:

Great to watch the media v politics drama unfolding and kudos to the two protagonists both for the offer and the acceptance!

Read the coverage of the story on the Guardian and Journalism.co.uk

continue reading: Ding ding – Rusbridger v. Watson...

3rd May, 2009

Yesterday on the Guardian website, Hazel Blears sent out a (thinly) veiled criticism of Gordon Brown and, in particular, his recent YouTube video (above), the reception to which has been pretty poor to say the least.

Blears comments:

“People want to look their politicians in the eyes and get their anger off their chests. We need a ministerial “masochism strategy”, where ministers engage directly and hear the anger first-hand. I’m not against new media. YouTube if you want to. But it’s no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre.”

In uttering this statement, Blears demonstrates her ignorance of social media (done properly). Say what you like about her communication strategy (some think this was a perfectly timed outburst for the Blarite, others feel it will do her own career a great deal of damage), but her real attack here is not against YouTube, but against the way it has been used.

Pick the right medium for the right person for the right message

Putting Gordon Brown on YouTube, where he clearly doesn’t feel comfortable, is as much a mistake of his publicists and spin doctors than anyone else. And the above is essentially political suicide. Especially when the comparisons with Mr Obama are plain and just too easy to make. That is a battle the PM is never going to win.

So perhaps Blears is onto something. Brown should focus on what he knows and is comfortable doing. Whatever you think of his policies (and I fear he won’t last the summer), you have to admit that this does him no favours at all.

I don’t want to suggest that politicians should focus on trying to become public-friendly celebrities or that they should be PR-ed to the hilt (that did and didn’t work for Tony Blair). But a little bit of positive coverage could be vital for the beleaguered PM.

Thought leadership without a thought leader

But then perhaps the problem lies deeper. Perhaps this isn’t about mediums or personalities.

As PRs and marketers, we are all working with what we have. Is everything marketable? Only to a certain extent. Don’t expect someone to write about your product if its not a purple cow. You can’t sustain thought leadership without a thought leader.

Far too often, we try and take something mediocre and put a (false) gloss on it. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn’t. And you feel that part of the ‘bad press’ the PR and marketing industries get is purely down to this.

And, increasingly, social media is being seen as a magic wand for this stuff. Traditional techniques aren’t working, so let’s just set up a YouTube channel or start twittering or blogging.

This is a dangerous strategy, where the ‘online world’ is less forgiving; Number 10 has been forced to close comments on the above video! This is especially dangerous. Why use social media if you disable the ‘social’ element. And this from a government that harps on about transparency.

The desires of Ms Blears – We need a ministerial “masochism strategy”, where ministers engage directly and hear the anger first-hand – is easier to do with social media than anywhere else. But not when the strategy and its output is so shortsighted.

So what does this tell us about the above video, the Prime Minister and the current government?

Something is wrong here. Is it the message? The messenger? Or the medium? I expect YouTube will still be around, long after the current PM and his policies have been confined to the history books.

continue reading: Oi Blears! Dont blame the medium...

15th April, 2009

It’s been another busy week at the White House.

President Obama welcomed a new member of his team – a puppy, Bo – and, more pertinent politically (if less hyped) are the suggestions from the current administration that things may be about to get a bit better economically.

And it really is perfect timing for America’s golden boy.

Yes, he was quick to mention that things were still bad. And yes, he has had to endure a few months of dire economic conditions. But this hasn’t really been a particularly taxing time for Obama in the popularity stakes.

He rode the wave of popularity when he came to office and was seen as the ‘knight in shining armour’ that would rescue the US (and the world) from  economic gloom and usher in a new prosperous era. And so far, so good. A few months of meetings with world leaders, sober, considered speeches and a eye-watering rescue plan and here we are: on the road to recovery. Easy!

I’m not trying to diminish the role he has played. Others, far more experienced than me will be able to comprehensively say what difference he and his policies have made. But the timings couldn’t have been better. And the language he used yesterday was perfectly picked:

“We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand.  We must build our house upon a rock.  We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity — a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.”

PR works best when you have a product that sells itself, and Obama certainly has that. But, a little bit of luck certainly helps too. I wonder if it will run out anytime soon…

continue reading: It’s just too easy for Obama...

27th March, 2009

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan has been making headlines this week following his controversial anti-Brown outburst at the European parliament (video below). The headlines didn’t appear in traditional media outlets however. Rather, they appeared online and were spread via social media.

Maybe the traditional news believe that the speech, in purely political terms, was fairly inconsequential no matter what was said. As Daniel himself says: “I tipped off the BBC and some of the newspaper correspondents but, unsurprisingly, they ignored me: I am, after all, simply a backbench MEP.”

But the public disagrees. With over 80,000 hits, the rant quickly became the most viewed video on YouTube, in the world – quite a feat!

This raises a few interesting questions: Is the mainstream media out of touch with public sentiment? Is it relying on traditional stories released or issued from the same old sources? Does this (again) merely demonstrate that social media has the potential to become a fundamental news distribution services that resonates very powerfully with consumers because it is driven by consumers?

I am perhaps being too tough on the traditional media. The old ‘quality control’ argument surely stands up. This wasn’t front page news, but the comments raised do seem to have resonated very powerfully with a public that is disillusioned and fed up with the dreary, bland news we are getting day in, day out.

Its also worth pointing out, as the Guardian mentions, that the speech itself is perfect for the Internet. A short video, with easy to follow arguments, delivered in a passionate way, not to mention the money-shot of Brown at the end. Succinct, to the point and engaging.

Whatever your politics, the democratisation of news is well and truly upon us.

continue reading: When politics goes viral...

11th February, 2009

Oh dear.

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged €600m (£565m) to help the country’s troubled newspaper industry. Ok, not too bad, news in certainly important.

But, he goes further….

He had added that he will give every teenager a free, one-year, state-subsidised subscription to a daily newspaper of their choice, as an 18th birthday cadeau.

Non? Oui. His words:

“The habit of reading a daily paper takes root at a very young age.”

Ok, so just forget about all the issues surrounding free press etc. etc. for a moment. I can understand the need to preserve the media. If state aid is the way to do this then fine. But why encourage youngsters down the route that will get media companies into the same situation again. As the lovely Guardian says:

“Sarkozy said he would increase sales points, loosen rules and pump aid into distributing papers to readers’ front doors. The number one problem is the cost of printing in France, with printworks tightly controlled by the communist union, Le Livre, which has rigid hours and protections. Sarkozy said the state would support negotiations with printers’ unions to reduce the costs by 30-40%.”

Ok, so printing is a problem. Ummmm…. Hmmm….. I wonder what could solve that?

This Week in Tech had an interesting discussion this week. They were reporting on a story from Business Insider which claimed that it costs the New York Times twice as much to print and deliver the paper each year than it would cost the paper to send each of its subscribers a free Amazon Kindle [with which they could read the digital edition].

They estimate that to print and deliver the NYT, it costs $644 million per year! Ouch!

So M. Président, by all means bail out the media companies. But put in place a caveat that they need to start investing in the modern day infrastructure that means they can start running a well-oiled business that is fully self-sufficient and realises when to change, move on and develop its ways.

Don’t believe me? Read what other [younger] people think (courtesy of the lovely Guardian again).

Ça va?

continue reading: Non, non et non, Monsieur le Président...

23rd January, 2009

Tuesday was a great day. We sat in the office, in awe of an undoubtedly great man. We were transfixed.

As Paul Carr said in his weekly column, the usual British cynicism that so often comes to the fore when anything American is concerned disappeared like $1 Obama water offered to a million-strong crowd.

The reason: he’s a great, natural marketer.

From day one, Obama has marketed himself brilliantly. There was a great comment piece in last month’s Revolution magazine which compared some of Obama’s early speeches from before he won the nomination to the email he sent on the night he was elected. The messages were almost identical.

That’s great branding. Great messaging and great strategy. We are always telling our clients that if you get the messaging right at the start, then everything else follows and works much better. It’s true and Obama knows it. I guess from a political standpoint, it suggests that this is also a person who is true to his beliefs and his vision. A good business lesson too.

Sure, he was very different to what went before, and that certainly helps. But so is the best marketing. And Obama accentuates and plays on these differences, if subtlety. Marketing the same message in the same way as everyone else is only going to get you so far. Doing something different, something unique, gets you noticed.

David Meerman Scott has brilliantly demonstrated the linguistic differences between Obama’s inaugural address and the one Bush gave 4 years ago. It’s subtle but it seems to hit home.

As Seth Godin says: be remarkable. Obama is certainly remarkable – the person and the brand.

Politically speaking, the hard work starts now. And, at the end of the day, he is a politician, not a marketer.

But in the days when countries are hiring PR agencies, what better leader to have than one that seems to understand how to inspire, persuade and communicate effectively to his own country and globally.

continue reading: Barack: the ultimate marketing case study?...