Posts Tagged ‘social media’

Narrative by numbers: The production line of storytelling

I recently came across a post on PR Newswire’s blog ( informing me of all the ways I could use storytelling to drive my business goals. Like the narrator of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, who finds himself cast back in time upon consumption of a madeline, I was sent rocketing back to the autumn of 2011. Leveson was only just winding into gear, Mr James Saville OBE lived in our hearts still as a treasured childhood companion, and a journalist friend of mine responded to an enthusiastic tweet I’d sent with a putdown. Replying to some thought I’d tweeted, she told me: “Mark, I’m bored of storytelling.”

She was wrong, of course. Typically for a journalist, she has a tiny attention span, and was perhaps unable to see the many applications of narrative thinking in communications. I’ve been preaching about the power of stories for years, but it was only around the turn of this decade that it became generally a faddish topic. I was happy when it did – for too long, clients of mine had been unable to see beyond their next ad deadline. Finally, people were beginning to understand that communications had to be deep and rich. They had to move people, and they had to last.

The point, however, is that by 2011 the value of stories was an established idea. Interesting and nuanced interpretations of it have come since, and the theory is still being applied to many great campaigns – Coca Cola’s ‘Content 2020’ remains the most powerful development of the theme. Nonetheless, in parlance likely to appeal to my journalist friend, storytelling in and of itself is old news. Whichever new biz pixie at PR Newswire decided to run that blog grossly miscalculated. Instead of looking hip, they look tired.

Not that we should be surprised – many of PR’s big beasts are well and truly on the rocks. Their client lists remain impressive – for now – but they were built to serve a dying model. In the days before communications were targeted, and smart, and deep, they’d get you a release to the people you needed it got to, across the world, at the same time. Nowadays, they’ll do the same, but they’ll do it after your competitors have swept Reddit, or YouTube, or Facebook with a ten second video, or created a media firestorm with one perfectly placed interview. They’re production lines, built to package repeat products, and this repackaged idea should be proof of just how slowly those production lines are running.

The Starcom Invasion of the Twittersphere

There was a news break from the FT on Monday which reported “Starcom Mediavest Group has signed a huge advertising deal with Twitter” representing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue over multiple years for the tech company.

Wisely, Twitter and Starcom declined to discuss the financial details of the agreement. According to the FT, it includes special perks for SMG when buying ads on Twitter and leveraging the tech platform’s data for its clients like Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Microsoft and Coca-Cola.

Do they care or wonder what Twitter users feel about this level of manipulation?

For those who enjoy Twitter, many are motivated by owning and sharing their story and ideas in the freewheeling universe. As various pop psychologists have posited, the instant gratification of these platforms is so great that it is having an impact on some users ability to connect outside the space.

We are becoming psychologically, emotionally and cognitively hardwired for connection.

Connection, along with love and belonging, is why there is an addiction to the medium. I spoke to a friend who is a Twitter obsessive: he told me it gave him purpose, and meaning in his life. It is taking the place, in certain and perhaps even many cases, of a life philosophy, or a religion.

To extract its true worth, smart operators will engage with Twitter on its own terms: understanding the need for dialogue, ingenuity and creativity to fully harness its power. Subtle tactics are quintessential when integrating  the medium. Unfortunately, boomers steam in bent on its exploitation.

I am frustrated by the colourless chatter assessing and comparing the trends in PR and social media. In fact it’s so self-defeating when the conversation gears toward  comparing disciplines with a metric of old boomer influenced media. The ideas produced by the marriages of new and old media agencies  to reach younger communities are unobtainable media driven visions of perfection. Let’s hold up the reality against the fictional account of perceived success, originated to win awards and mega festivals like the Cannes Lions.

I am wary of nostalgia, it is a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives and working existence  to a bleary memory that our sepia tinted view of the past has so completely edited that it bears almost no relation to the truth.

Consider this: the moment advertisers try to take ownership of a new medium its decline is assured.  The real influencers get clever and begin searching for the next trend. Applying the old rules and methodology of communications to the new world of parallel influence only expedites the irrelevance of marketers. Scrutinising  the news about the perceived success that global brands and their agencies are having in Facebook and Twitter: clever positioning of exploitative ideas is just an attempt to garner awards. Nonetheless the smart money is invested in a contemporary medium to capture and bewitch the mavens.

Waitrose and the twitter storm: happy accident or calculated hit?

Waitrose have joined the happy band of consumer brands to have a well-intentioned twitter campaign hijacked, as their #waitrosereasons hashtag found itself the source of various class-based jibes at the expense of this most well-heeled of retailers. I am still trying to work out if this was a calculated attempt to kick off a conversation. Certainly It’s part of a noble tradition, stretching back to Skittles’ 2009 decision to replace their homepage with a live twitter feed (cue a series of posts along the lines of “skittles: ANAL CUNT THAT IS GOOD”). Recently, Mountain Dew has also succumbed.

Many will applaud Waitrose, however, for turning a potential damp squib into some great column inches. Countless outlets ran significant analysis pieces, presumably as the result of a quick nudge from a Waitrose PR pixie, and the Waitrose social media team made it expressly clear- albeit in the ‘forced grin’ fashion of a doddery politician or low-status boss- that they found it all, mostly, really rather funny.

Timing wise, they’ve scored a great coup, cementing themselves firmly into the media consciousness on a Friday and thus ensuring coverage throughout the lucrative affluent shopping hours of Saturday and Sunday. There’s no doubting, too, that this was an admirable display of both flexibility and a sense of fun.

Yet at the same time, the question is begged as to whether anyone sought a long-range, helicopter view before taking this tack. Responsive and attention-grabbing it may have been, but the PR team’s actions sit uneasily with the brand as a whole, and one must wonder whether any c-suite figures would share their sense of humour. Was this a creative bit of conversation wrangling or a last-minute bolt on?

Nonetheless, the gods of evaluation are likely to applaud this as a major success: damned stats are always good for obscuring the backstory. The team should enjoy the coverage, whether it was them chasing it or no.

Twitter or Trad PR? Always Check the Bathwater for Babies

The past few years have seen huge debate in the PR industry around the radical reshaping of public relations. Why, asked the naysayers, would a Celeb employ a PR in an age where they can use Twitter to break stories, correct rumours, build their brand and offer coveted insights into their lives? DIY was the way forward.

I’ve always believed in checking the bath water for babies. Don’t discard the essentials especially when the proven skillset has a purpose.

This weekend saw two stories which validate my point of view. The first was the Xfactor meltdown of the Pink impersonator Zoe Alexander- auditions cannon fodder who claimed, after being thrown off the stage, she had been persuaded by manipulative producers to choose a song which lead to her ritual humiliation. Then there was Jackie Powell, Ian Brady’s mental health advocate. In the Sunday Times she spoke of being stitched up by a TV production company. After back tracking on an agreement she accused them of deliberately using her for publicity purposes, culminating in her arrest.

I do not know how much truth lies behind each of these claims, but I do know just how ruthless TV production teams can be to produce the ultimate end product. Whether you have reasonable cause to be angry or not, a seasoned PR hand who know their way around the block is essential in this situation- if nothing else, they can offer safe, reasoned counsel.

Social media has its uses- we’ve seen it brilliantly exploited lately by the likes of Tulisa, who used a frank and open YouTube clip to head her money grubbing ex off at the pass. Bear in mind, however, that Tulisa is also backed up by hefty PR muscle, not to mention a shit hot legal team. In a crisis, always look for a few grey hairs.

Freedom of Information: The Changing Function of the Comms Industry

There was a great post by Kevin Bakhurst on the BBC editors’ blog the other day explaining the changes to the nature of the newsroom in the post-social media age. Bakhurst gives a pretty considered rundown of the challenges poseblue td by social media, not least the fact it almost always has someone else be first with the scoop, as well as its benefits for newsgathering, research, and understanding the zeitgeist. It’s great to see journalists so honestly and humbly engaging with the great communications innovation of our time.

However, I think what really needs to be assessed- not just by journalists, but by all of us in the communications industry- is what exactly the social media landscape means for our role and our image. Journalists no longer find the scoops, PRs no longer control the conversation, Marketing people no longer enjoy hegemony over public information. These are no longer problems to be considered: they are facts, known to public and media alike.

As a consequence, how do the communications industries present themselves and their function? If the newsmakers are, often, not seen as sleuths and explorers, then what are they?
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After the Phone Hacking: Networking Sociably on the Social Networks

Back in February, I wrote an entry about the ‘lost art of the long lunch’, which lamented an unfortunate consequence of the modern, social media-dominated environment and its ten minute news cycle. With most conversations now conducted via mouthpiece or screen, and quickly at that, it strikes me that the generations of hacks cutting their teeth from the late 80s onwards lack the highly sensitive interpersonal skills of their forbears.

The Fleet Street era of colossal expense accounts and booze-fuelled revelations couldn’t last, of course, but it had one thing going for it. When devious tactics were employed to extract information, more often than not they were employed face to face. It was open warfare of the kind where the loser probably deserved what was coming to them, if only because they’d had a few too many brandies with dessert. Perhaps if a generation of scribblers were not chained to their desks in the Wapping Gulag, the need for hacking might have taken a back seat. Worshipping the powers of a lunchtime claret, and its ability to make a contact sing, might have suppressed the lust for the dark arts.

Journalists have always done whatever it takes to get information. Nobody in the media industry has any illusions about that. Look at how readily Kelvin Mackenzie implicitly defended many of those involved in the phone hacking scandal in his 2010 spat with Chris Bryant, for instance. The point is, though he can sympathise with those who did, Mackenzie didn’t resort to the kind of invasive tactics employed at NI publications in the late 90s and early 00s when he edited the Sun. Sure, he didn’t have some of the technology, but he also didn’t have to. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Survive in Media Limbo

In the wake of Cheryl Cole’s turbulent relationship with the media since her sacking from the American X Factor, here are some tips, inspired by Andy Green, that might help her through any other media difficulties that may come her way in future.

Cheryl’s recent sacking is an opportunity to re-evaluate her identity and learn valuable lessons in creativity. We all have to learn to deal with rejection and the word ‘No’.

1. Focus on who you are and why you’ve been successful.

A strong identity and deep roots in what made you successful in the first place will help you weather the worst storm. Was the American ‘X Factor’ actually the right strategic move for you? What is your real mission in life? Is your brand in accordance with this? Remember, being a sleb is not the most important thing in life.

2. Do you have a relevant narrative?

When you move on to a new challenge is your ‘story’ appropriate for the new context you are moving in to? Consider this: is an American TV focus group going to be moved or confused by “British television celebrity/Geordie singer/overcame the odds/deprived back story”? Always bet on the latter. Read the rest of this entry »

The Ego Has Landed

Britain’s Got Talent has rolled around again and again the nation is gripped. Out with the old and in with the new. It’s been this way for a while. Remember, it’s not five minutes since the X Factor was all anyone could talk about, but that’s seeped away into the mists of time as BGT conquers the attention spans of the nation.

Like a Chinese meal, it is all you can taste and think about, but when it’s finished it’s forgotten and all you want is the next fix of foodstuff. There’s news, there’s excitement, there’s hyperbole scattered all over the place like MSG – and then it’s gone.

Of course, we are at the point that everyone is most interested in – the freak parade. Never mind the machinations behind the scenes or the commercial value of the brand; this is what the people most care about; the narrative, the crazies.

Given that it’s all about BGT right now, will we ever know the truth of what caused Cheryl Cole’s American X Factor exit and non-admittance to the UK judging panel? I doubt it, as the people have spoken and what they want is the tears, the heartache, the visceral stories, whether good or bad. What use is a nation’s sweetheart without some pain? We’ve used up the divorce tears – here’s the next weepie Cole adventure. Read the rest of this entry »

Twitter: mightier than the sword?

A wry smile crossed my lips when I heard the news that lawyers have applied for a court order to force Twitter to hand over the person behind the whistleblower account. It’s taken one anonymous tweeter to spectacularly out the famous footballer hiding behind his privacy injunction and, in a heartbeat, neuter the legal profession. Now blood lusting lawyers crave a sacrifice: a public crucifixion to warn others not to engage in mass collaboration with total strangers on the web.

I have always believed there has been a calculus of public vs. private interest, but this week has proved that the law is broken. The wider world is not interested in the deliberations of a dusty-wigged UK high court judge. The legal framework must try and understand the new age of free, libertarian speech especially when they are considering a celebrity’s position on his or her commercial value. There appears to be a very obvious point: the law is useless! It’s broken and unenforceable. Read the rest of this entry »

Super-Injunctions and Changing the Way We Think

This is the modern age, the age of the super-injunction, the age when celebrities want to keep their dirty laundry in bomb- and journalist-proof cages so that not even the slightest whiff of scandal can escape.

Of course, it’s just not as easy as that, as the furore over someone posting information on Twitter about people who have allegedly taken out super-injunctions proves. My instinct suggests that the poster is simply a nobody seeking a rather risky path to fame; but this does not alter the fact that technology changes at an exponentially faster rate than humanity’s baser instincts, as this outbreak of injunction-exposure, and the reaction to it, shows all too clearly.
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