Friday, March 31, 2006

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Jargon Watch

EBITDA-CAC: I can't work out whether this is inspired, mad as a bag of cats or both all at the same time. Hutchison Whampoa have come up with a new performance indicator for its third-generation mobile telecoms business 3 Group. It is actually an acronym for earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation minus customer acquisition costs.

The FT quotes an executive who claims that metric was invented to take account of "the market's focus on the cash cost of building the 3 Group's business."

"The metric gives a better understanding of whether and when the business have achieved operating cash flow sufficient to cover the growth investment in CAC".

CAC sounds the same as cack, English slang for for rubbish; surely a coincidence?

Kudos: 3 Group points the way in 3G by Tom Mitchell Financial Times (page 29) March 28, 2006.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

PR 2.0 part two

Calman art
Originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.
The New, New Thing: Same Old Carpetbaggers and Snake Oil Salesmen

The first time around during the dot com bubble I can remember meeting very bright intelligent people trying to convince me that they were going to change the world based on their mastery of the latest buzz words.

Already industry pundits like Om Malik are complaining about businesses that are built to flip; that is not developing a service as a business that will be paid for by online advertising or a subscription, but instead is designed to only make one sale - the business itself when it is bought by (insert the name of a large technology company here).

Since Web 2.0 is hard to pin down this allows an assortment of modern-day carpetbaggers and snake oil salemen to try and pry money out of large companies that need to be seen to be dynamic or venture capital companies that are not very good at kicking the tyres.

As a PR consultant its your job to avoid these people as they will sully your relationships with the media and will not think twice about leaving you with unpaid bills.

How do you avoid these people?
  • Use your common sense
  • Avoid companies that are built to flip
  • If a companies business model makes no sense to you, its because its nonsense
  • Are there too many expensive professional business people on board?
  • Google the people you meet, read their blogs, have a look on flickr. Do your research - have they written or presented papers? What's their pedigree?
  • Avoid people that tell you upfront they're in talks with (insert large tech firm), big companies talk to lots of people all the time. It doesn't mean that they're serious 90 per cent of the time
  • Try the product, would you use it at home? Would you recommend it to friends? Would your partner (or bit on the side) use it? - If not, then how can you promote it and expect other people to buy into it?

Monday, March 27, 2006

PR 2.0 part one (or the peculiar nature of representing Web 2.0 firms from a PR consultant's perspective)

Originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.

This posting is the first of a series is not designed to provide a technical understanding of Web 2.0 but help PR people understand what they can bring to the table and how they should help out.

What is Web 2.0?

The first rule of Web 2.0 is that you don't describe it as Web 2.0. If you break this rule, you're obviously a know-nothing marketer or a grasping journalist looking for a bandwagon to hang your hat.

The movers and shakers in this movement consider that label to be so two-to-three years ago. Forrester Research uses the label XInternet so they can make it sound as if they alone have discovered an online future, personally I think that they may have read too many comics as a child and in the middle age still want to be Wolverine.

Ok, social movements seem to coalesce and have their time and the media and everyone else like to put a name on it because a name gives you power over it, an understanding , makes it tangible.

That's why many 'primitive' civilisations had a big thing about not giving out your real name, kind of like policemen with their badge numbers when at the scene of an incident.

So Web 2.0 is a label like acid house, hippies, the beat generation, rave and indie.

The phrase came out of a conference run by IT publisher O'Reilly Media. From this Tim O'Reilly wrote an essay about the kind of things that made up the phenomena of Web 2.0. He did not come up with a trite definition but came up with a number of symptoms that indicate Web 2.0-ness.

Like the judge in a famous obsenity trial, most people have struggled to neatly define Web 2.0, but know it when they see it.

The Web 2.0 pioneers usually came out of bootstrapped enterprises, they achieved a lot quickly by being made up of small highly talented teams rather than the traditional IT development approach of using body shops like IBM Global Services, Accenture or EDS. Indeed the skills sets of these companies are completely in the wrong place both in terms of technologies and project management.

Tools like XML were widely looked on as a successor to EDI (electronic data interchange) in the enterprise, rather than the bedrock of building applications themselves.

Web 2.0 is:
A set of values - Web 2.0 companies tend to have a common set of values that affect everything they do. They are technically led and influenced by the philosophy of the open source community. They're products include elements of online collaboration where the consumer is both producer and consumer or prosumer as Alvin Toffler put it, such as social networks, tagging, folksonomies, user-generated content.

Many of the successful companies in this area where boot-strapped together, rather than funded by venture capitalists, this gives them a mom-and-pop feel - more of this this later when we talk about communities. Many are community-minded, by this I do not mean that they're members of the Rotarians, but they think about how the products can be used by people like them. They not only consider themselves to be facilitators of these communities but part of the community themselves

A set of design principles - Ok, so there is a cliched look with rounded fonts and the use of AJAX to provide a dynamic user experience is a bit of a cliche, but Web 2.0 applications generally have an approach to doing things that is framed by what has gone before and the limitations imposed by being small and beautiful.

They generally focus on doing something well, a product is not finished when its good enough but evolves through a dialogue with consumers. Rather than trying to be all things to all people by providing a monolithic set of products, Web 2.0 products have open APIs that allow their functionality be the brought together or 'mashed-up'.

A way of looking at a problem - Web 2.0 companies largely seem to be dead set against feature creep in a way that conventional software companies could learn from. On the flipside they have also been accused of being features rather than businesses as they are focused on providing the best solution to do a particular job.

This goes the convergent direction that hardware manufacturers in the mobile phone and consumer electronics sectors have been going down. Much of the developments that have driven Web 2.0 have as much to do with social engineering as technology: take Amazon's ratings systems for goods purchased on the site or the use of tags on services like Flickr.

An interesting take on IP - Microsoft is looking at registering over 5,000 patents a year, yet companies like Google provide open APIs that allow developers to build on their work. A classic example of this is the local search product provided online at which utlises Google maps and Thomson directory listings together with rail data from

In addition, the approach of making frequent evolutionary improvements on a product does not lend itself well to patent laws as outside the US patent filers do not have 12-months grace to file on an invention in the public domain but have to file before it goes public.

There seems to be a dichotomy. The services themselves are build on easily available tools from Linux servers to open source scripting languages. The war in Web 2.0 is less about intellectual property ownership and more about 'owning' the smartest people to conjure up new ideas and take things in new directions.

A way of doing business - Web 2.0 companies provide open interfaces because they believe that there is a network effect happening when the API is used that has a positive benefit for the originator so long as there is attribution. This is in stark contrast to the more defensive approach by conventional software companies and existing web businesses. These open APIs could also allow a user on one service to move their existing data over to another newer better web service at any point in the future. It's like a bank advertising the fact that they make it easy for you move if you're ever dissatisfied with their service.

A new set of challenges - How do you build a community when your product grows beyond your early adopter peers? How do you communicate the value you provide? How do you educate people on the benefits of them doing your work for you. Encouraging them to tag, link to friends or provide their own content? How do you convince people that you can make money when you give away your service to potential competitors through open APIs?

A reaction to what has gone before - Cause and effect. The inadequacies of the software industry and current internet offerings, together with the rise of XML, cheap tools, widespread broadband, growth in processing power, cheaper storage and maturing open source applications were the midwives to the birth of web 2.0.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

On heavy rotation

A Hundred Birds - Black Water (Wave Music) Japanese artists cover the detroit techno classic using real instruments. It adds a depth to the track that original didn't have. This was recommended to me by Alec, apparently the number of texts to his radio show goes through the roof when he drops this. You can listen to samples and purchase it here.

White Collar Criminals - Wanting You (Jackin Tracks)
The one to go for is the Johnny Fiasco mix on the b-side. A great mix of rousing soulful strings and samples with jackin' beats and acid lines makes the track something that the best producers from the Chicago house scene. More info here.

Terry Mullan & Bryan Jones - Reclaim Your Acid Heritage EP (Robsoul) Classic acid-style tracks with lashings and lashings of TB-303 sounds all over the place. Get your fix from Phonica before they sell out.

The Miami Winter Music Conference has started which means that its start of the music buying season again, if the rest of the year turns out like these tracks then we're in for a jackin' summer to take our minds off the hose pipe ban.

Link Heaven

Wired Online resurrected one of their best features a while ago Webmonkey which is a great resource for web creatives and pseudo nerds (check out their classic bluffers guide to UNIX commands), anyway they have a great redux of Web 2.0. which can be found here.

While you wile away your life in a cube toiling away for the man in the 21st century's answer to the dark satanic mills check out
Unknown FM. If you're up early on a Sunday morning or haven't got to bed yet check out Alec (Alec Samways of Splendid Communications) and Sacha's show from 8 - 10 am. It is a mix of easy-to-digest house music, so you can host an impromptu after-hours club in front of your PC.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A revolution without dancing is a revolution not worth having

I paused for a few days before writing this review of V for Vendetta because of the polarised views about the film. People who like it are accused of being fan boys, the people who dislike it are alleged to be blind. The truth is somewhere in between.

About V

V for Vendetta was imagined by a disillusioned Moore who was living a mid-1980s Britain very different from the present day. The cold war raged on in Africa, the Middle East and Afganistan.

AIDS was a scary new illness and the red-tops were calling for carriers and high-risk groups like homosexuals to be put in 'detention camps'. We had race riots in Brixton and Toxteth and there were allegations of a shoot-to-kill policy against the catholic minority in Northern Ireland.

The Sunday Times magazine ran a photo-journalism story about how unemployed men in Birkenhead were making ends meet by scrabbling around the municipal dump of Bidston Moss looking for scrap to sell on. And the forces of the state were let loose on mining communities to break the organised labour movement. Violence by police officers captured and shown on the TV news was considered to be inadmissible evidence in cases were charges of police brutality had been brought.

Meanwhile the UK took its first steps to becoming the world's surviellance capital with the widespread installation of closed-circuit television in most major towns.

In the words of Moore the country had become 'mean-spirited' and he thought about moving abroad.

Where its different
  • It involves a biological war rather than the low-level nuclear war envisaged by Alan Moore (who didn't take account of the nuclear winter)
  • It references modern-day conflicts like the war on terror and references the negative capitalism of drug companies; indeed the launch fo the film occurred around about the time a pharmaceutical trial went horribly wrong in London

Where it succeeds
  • V is well portrayed by Hugo Weaver
  • Natalie Portman is in it - lovely
  • Elements like the Shadow Gallery are on the money
  • Stephen Fry and Stephen Rea are well acted
Where it falls down
  • V is too slick for its own good visually
  • The film has been badly edited, if you hadn't read the comic some of the changes would have been harder to understand. For instance, the fire at Larkhill isn't explained at all and the full significance of Scarlett Carsons - the rare rose breed is missing
  • You don't get an understanding of how Vis at the centre of the country's control apparatus

Why do they hate V so much?
  • Alan Moore had his name removed from the film, though the illustrator David Lloyd was happy to be associated with it. This has as much to do with the bad experience Moore had at the hands of DC Comics and the film industry which are well documented here and here
  • Its made by the guys who did The Matrix: it also uses a lot of Matrix cliches in the colour of scenes, their lighting and special effects. Bullet-time is used in the main fight scene for instance
  • The controversy of Euan Blair being a runner on the set
  • The concern in the public's mind over terrorism and the ideas that the film drives home are close to the bone

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The MySpace Saga continues

Social networking boffin danah boyd has carved out a bit of a niche as the media's talking head of choice regarding MySpace.

Following on from my posts that have discussed MySpace, danah's perspective on the challenges that the social networking site faces makes an interesting read.

Put simply Friendster waned because they didn't manage the way they treated their community well, MySpace runs a risk of imploding under its own weight as the needs and cultures of its users collide in a messy super public.

MySpace is also threatened by a political and public pressure of moral panic as the adult world don't get what the kids are doing. This is likely to bring in legislation in the US (sounds like rock n' roll music in the middle of the last century).

danah sees this as bad news for freedom of speech, anonymity online and damaging for social networking sites in general.

A secondary impact will be on the ability to monetise these sites through advertising and sponsorship deals, as big brand marketers won't want to support sites that would tarnish the public perception of their brand. This restriction on entrepreneurs is likely to impact on the development of social networks.

Kudos to the YPulse newsletter. Picture by Patricia Gomez-Garcia.

Empirical Evidence

Due to work, I found myself down at The Guardian's main office last thing on Monday afternoon with another colleague to talk through a community-related product that we had just launched in the UK.

While we were in the papers swanky and reasonably priced canteen in the bowels of the building, I got to shoot the breeze with
Jane Perrone about blogs.

Jane is assistant news editor of Guardian Unlimited.

The first topic of discussion was
Comments is Free; the new editorial commentary blog has meant that some of her old media colleagues have had to learn about how to work in a new medium.

Jane also pointed out that some of the interns find it hard to get to grips with blogging and often don't have a clue what's it all about, reinforcing my own views of the generational marketing gap opening up between unversity students and younger scholars.

Jane is a keen organic gardener, (she blogs about it
here) also mentioned the rise of retired bloggers who document every aspect of their life obsessively. One woman Jane mentioned documents the size of eggs laid by her free-range hens each day. Nokia's life blog concept now starts to make sense.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Quattrone - even if he's found innocent he's guilty

Frank Quattrone got leave to appeal his conviction earlier today, whilst overturning his conviction would be a vindication for him and be a sense of relief to family and close friends he has already been sentenced and found guilty.

The NASD have punished him, his career as a banker finished and those who used to associate with him scattered to the four winds for fear of being tainted by association.

Quattrone ultimately was punished for the sins of the many:
  • The equity and market analysts who hyped the industry
  • The bank directors who looked the other way in the name of profits
  • The pension fund managers looking for easy money
  • The media for lapping up the lies and half-truths without questions
  • PR people for being the ringmasters of a four-ring circus of companies, bankers, analysts and the media
  • And most importantly we the people for being gullible enough to believe the rubbish the told us in their marketing brochures
Quattrone is a sinner: particularly against style and fashion if you have a look at his ties and the John Holmes moustache, but we should not ignore the plank in our own eyes when looking at the thorn in his.

The judges finding on Quattrone's appeal is here. Kudos to the San Jose Mercury News.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Jargon Watch

Body uncount - Neal Stephenson and Frederick George's political satire and thriller Cobweb has the unscrupulous gravy-train merchant Dr Arthur Larsen inventing a notional statistic based on the number of people the work of his researchers had saved for public relations and loosening the purse strings of grant bodies.

It reminded me of the kind of statistics that we would use to manufacture news for clients that had nothing new to say.

In one particular case we took the percentage savings figures that the client had achieved for existing client installations over a year. (We didn't do anything as coarse as asking the client how these numbers were derived).

We then applied this to a government figure on the amount of money being spent by national and local government on IT initiatives using similar technologies.

A press release was issued on the wires, sold into journalists and emailed to the opposition political parties.

Sure enough we were asked to arrange a meeting between our client and the Cabinet Office for further discussions on their offering.

Regarding the picture, Robert McNamara when secretary of the Department of Defence has been accused of using statistics like body count as smoke and mirrors victories during the US involvement in Vietnam.

Second Chance Tuesday - amend your diaries

Shu Uemura
Originally uploaded by renaissancechambara.
At RC towers we got an email from the organisers of Second Chance Tuesday which has been postponed until early May.

From: Glasshouse Events
Date: 16 March 2006 12:15:34 GMT
To: events at mailing list
Subject: RE: Second Chance Tuesday - New Date 2 May 2006

In a change to the published date, the next Second Chance Tuesday will be held on Tuesday, 2 May 2006. Full details to announce the opening of registration for the event will follow shortly. We will also be announcing details of new sponsors and plans for development of SCT events throughout 2006. We truly apologise for any inconvenience that the date change may cause. We promise not to make a habit of moving event dates and we will publish future dates well in advance.

We have been overwhelmed with the response to the last Second Chance Tuesday and hundreds of people have been joining the mailing list each week. We would like to thank all of you who have been in touch to give us feedback on the last event and some new ideas for the future. Please do keep the suggestions and ideas coming, we are looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible on Tuesday, 2 May 2006. If you have friends or colleagues who would like to join the mailing list please ask them to visit.

With very best wishes

Judith Clegg & Michael Smith

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Where the rubber hits the road

Following on from my posting about how much of an impact blogs are likely to have on PR, it occurred to me that whilst people talk about the technological aspect of services and how they change the media landscape; but not how this impacts from a sociological point-of-view.

There is the generational gap of digital natives versus digital immigrants where digital immigrants have only known the world with the Internet as a source of information and and communications. Secondly there is the sociological generation gap between baby-boomers, generation x and generation y.

They have different aspirations and ways of working. Generation y would be digital natives, but it is also factors like they didn't live through the cold war, or that women's rights is accepted as norm which changes the way they look at the world, interact with each other and use information.

Generation y are seen as being more group centric than baby-boomers and generation x as more pragmatic than the existential boomers.

If one overlays this on web services you can see how the 'ego-centric' nature of blogging would fit quite nicely for boomers and its comments section allows rigorous debates that generation x love, whereas services like MySpace would fit better with the consensus, high touch and collective nature of generation y.

MySpace the service, will probably wane rather like Friendster before it, mainly because social software still has a lot of learnings to do and services to refine.

For instance, I have not been able accept a friend invite from Drew B, and an example of bad user experience design is the way I have to go and pick up mail from MySpace rather than have it drop into my email account.


Mancunian breaks night Airtight have got a revamped site with some great MP3 mixes for your iPod. The mixes can be found here.

I had dinner out on Thursday night with some of the team from consumer PR agency Splendid at The Cuckoo Club on Swallow Street just (off Regent Street). The venue has a restaurant on the ground floor with a lovely interior and some tricked out low lighting, it looks bigger than it is through the use of mirrors.

The food is very good and I am told that they had a good wine list. There is a dance floor downstairs which isn't cutting edge but filled with lots of bright young things and provides excellent materials for avid people watchers. The venue did have one of my pet hates however the toilet attendant looking to blag tips.

One last point, I guess the more inquisitive amongst you will be wondering why the picture of the adidas Torsion special kicks to accompany this post. The simple answer is because I can.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

PR, blogging: new new thing, changing the world forever, new paradigm in communications - whatever!

SiliconValleyWatcher's Tom Foremski talked about the disruption of PR by bloggers in his posting The Disruption of PR by Blogging (March 5, 2006) .

Yes PR will be affected by blogs in the same way that it has been affected by word processors, email, forums, the Usenet and mobile phones.

Working practices change but the industry adapts to them.

Foremski starts off by pointing out how search engine marketing has affected media advertising, indeed I went to a meeting the other week where Charles Dunstone talked about how Carphone Warehouse used to be the second largest advertiser on commercial radio stations where they operated and had now transferred the vast majority of that budget into online marketing.

Search engine marketing is useful, it is particularly seductive where marketers need to justify their existence on regular basis. It provides lots of PowerPoint-friendly data that can be analysed and discussed at nauseum in overly long meetings.
It is very good at driving transactional traffic.

What it won't do however is brand awareness or preference, indeed Dunstone complained that some of the online affinity marketing partners that Carphone Warehouse used chose terms 'very close' to competitors names.

This is hardly the kind of marketing techniques to build continued business through brand loyalty.

While existing high profile companies can benefit from blogs because it allows direct communication with readers without having to go through the media lesser known companies or start-ups need the help of a PR expert.

Foremski cites Robert Scoble providing the example of a start-up company that acquired 400,000 beta users in just one week from a mention on a few key technology orientated blogs.
  • How do the key bloggers find out about a start-up?
  • How should the start-up present itself in the correct light?
  • Which are the best blogs to go to in order to attract the right kind of beta user?
  • What should they do if the service goes pear-shaped?
These are all areas that a PR consultant can provide valuable input on for a start-up company.

Blogs are shaping the news, just like the Usenet and forums have done for a considerable amount of time on things like the Pentium floating point mathematical error which gave Intel some major damage to their reputation through to discussions on whether Ashley Cole and DJ Masterstepz were implicated in the the New of the World allegations about football players and how their court actions against the paper were likely to play out.

According to Wikipedia, Public Relations is the art and science of building relationships between an organisation and its key audiences.

A relationship consists of a two-way dialogue and blog comments and noise in the blogosphere is another tool that helps PR listen and engage with these key audiences alongside

Usenet groups, public meetings, analyst call-ins, surgeries and customer service records.

Blogging is of its time, Scoble has been at the right place at the right time, there are countless other people as enthusiastic about their work as Scoble that do not get read (like most of the folks at Sun Microsystems), it's the the same as other forms of media.

As the number of blogs on the Internet continues to grow at a furious pace the signal-to-noise ratio will decrease.

In fact there is some indication that blogs are passe. If one looks at, it now has twice as many members as there are blogs online, it already has groups that specialise in discussing employers, products and services. It has put bands like the Arctic Monkeys into the charts.

Blogging still offers the opportunity to improve the page rank of your site, which is why pseudo blogs are being set up by search engine spammers and my blog content frequently ends up being scraped and repurposed by these people. In fact this spamming could see search engines decrease the weighting given to blog links and therefore deminish their power.

Foremski's opinion on PR seem to be formulated more by some of the symptoms of what he sees as PR like press releases and cringe-worthy parties where media pond-life are invited rather being based on an real understanding of the profession.

Foremski quotes blogging as being a factor of ten less expensive than traditional PR, but as my old man told me a long time ago: if something is too good to be true, it's because it is.

Blogging is a useful technological tool and PR will adapt to it, though the change will not be as dramatic as everyone thinks it is.

Ok, a case in point; six-to-eight years ago the big thing was online press rooms, now every company has a press pack online, but releases are still emailed out and web-casts are still not as attractive as face-to-face interviews - try offering a CEO video conference interview to a journalist :-).

Whilst journalists like Charles Arthur talk about wanting to migrate to RSS feeds, how would the find out about a product or service of interest from a company whose RSS feeds they hadn't subscribed to yet?

PR is wider in its remit in promoting the latest Bubble 2.0 widget to nappies and washing powder. Blogs are just another tool and channel in the arsenal of the PR practitioner and I think bloggers have more change coming down the pipe to them than the other way around.

Tom Murphy of Microsoft Ireland has a good article here where he talks about blogging as one part of a multi-channel approach in technology PR campaigns based on the "Gartner hype curve" (I have also seen it as the Judith Hurwitz hype curve after the former US indpendent market analyst house).

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spammers Delight

The Independent's Paperchase email was earlier today sent out with all the subscribers email addresses visible in the email.

Now I could wax lyrical about what a security breach this was, but I'll leave that to other people.

For those not in the know Paperchase is a summary of the days news as seen by many of the world's top newspapers and The Independent.

It arrives in my inbox around about lunch time each week day.

Whilst I had the opportunity I had a quick peak at the kind of organisations that subscribed to the newsletter.

There were 856 email addresses subscribed, a substantial amount were from the main news-gathering organisations and current affairs publications throughout Western Europe. There was a smattering of professional services organisations, particularly law firms.

Interestingly there was only one subscriber from a domain that I recognised as a PR agency.

Increasingly, PRs seem to rely on their subscription feeds of client news rather than also doing wider reading to contextualise client activity. This was borne out by some conversations that I have had with former colleagues who are still agency side with organisations like Cohn & Wolfe.

Wed Mar 15, 2006 02:08:04 PM GMT
Subject: INDEPENDENT PAPERCHASE: Walls of Jericho under siege in IDF bid to capture suspected militant


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Jargon Watch

Glocalisation - the 'ugliness' that ensues when global and local are shoved into the same digital service in a manner which is uncomfortable.

It impacts web service design and touches on hard issues like economics through to soft issues like social relationships and the users values. There is a diacotomy on the web between being able to be part of a global village, by connecting around the world (example: this blog is hosted in the US by a US company (Google) and yet written in the UK).

At a personal level however people are most concerned with their own culture (example: I live in London yet follow a
northern rugby league team and GAA county games, eat traditional Irish food that I grew up with like soda bread, a fried breakfast, brown stew, drink Barry's Tea and Bolland's Biscuits).

More information on this subject and how it pertains to the web from danah boyd's paper presented at the O'Reilly Emerging Technolgies (E-Tech) conference 2006.

Truth or Spin?

Kongekabale or Kings Game in English is taunt Danish thriller in the same type of genre as Wag the Dog, Defence of the Realm and All the President's Men.

The film tries to illustrate the unholy power alliance between journalists, lobbyists and politicians and how the pieces are moved around the board for personal gain.

Because the film is based in Denmark it seems more shocking but in reality when we reflect on the kinds of things that have gone in UK politics the film is pretty tame.

I could just see it know, a film based around the Brown-Blair rivalry with Peter Mendellson having a role and the dark majesty of the Alistair Campbell character portrayed by Alan Rickman acting everyone else off screen.

Or if we didn't want anything too close to now, how about a dark portrayal of the miners strike?
With a government wanting to subdue an industry by any means necessary and an egotistical political union leader willing to give them the mother of all battles that they desire.

In the process the lives of thousands of families are destroyed.

Kongekabale tries to hold a mirror up to challenge society not to get sold out by its mandarins and media barons, in reality the sale happened years ago.

Entertaining, and well shot but the message of Kings Game is way too naive for British society.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Nice Design Site

The Goethe Institute has a selection of what it considers to be great German product and industrial design including the Fischer wall plug, the Nivea pot, Rimowa cases and Leibniz butter biscuits.

For obvious reasons they leave off the Volkswagen Beetle, but do include the
Porsche 911. Have an exploration of their selection here.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Oprah Time

The Tain translated by Thomas Kinsella The book is is a translation of the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge (in English known as the Cattle Raid of Cooley) which is a centre part of the Ulster Cycle.

Kinsella's translation is widely considered to be an accessible version of the tale. Kinsella's work is more focused than other works and I was inspired to hunt it out by reading Frank Delaney's novel Ireland which I reviewed
here and Early Irish Myths and Sagas translated by Jeffrey Gantz which has an eclectic mix of Irish and Welsh content.

In addition to Kinsella's translation there are ink prints throughout the book by Louis Le Brocquy add perfectly complement the text.

The New Hibernia Review has a description of how Le Brocquy's images work with Kinsella's words in the original editions published by the Dolmen Press, which gave the images much more prominence. Unfortunately these change hands for a good deal of money, so I have to make do with the Oxford University Press edition.

Jargon Watch

MMS-MMS: Nothing to do with the Multimedia Messaging Service available on your cell phone, but instead refers to the group of non-Apple music players in the music marketplace that use Microsoft software for their answer to iTunes and the iTunes Music Service. Microsoft-based Music Stores with Minuscule Market Share - hurtful but true.

One of the better examples of these industry sub-standard media players is the Samsung Z5, pictured (click through to read Samsung's write-up about consumers choosing digital subscription services - it's a bit like Philips writing about consumers choosing Video2000 format tapes).

Although it's a nice looking gadget it is still as much use as a
Ronson lighter at an ASH conference.

Kudos to David Pogue at the New York Times.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The PR Twilight Zone

I had lunch with the head of a large agency's technology practice and after we got over all the usual social chit-chat and gossip we got on to talking about the business. Generally PR people are glass half-full people, or as I prefer to say delusional. We got into talking about business and the conversation veered on to new business.

I expressed my surprise at the lack of PRs at events like Second Chance Tuesday trying to suck up to potential clients and secure new business, when she dropped this bombshell "I am not doing any more new business because I can't get any more account managers, any of the decent ones you speak to want to go in-house."

Without an economic boom we could see agencies resorting to strategies of interviewing prospective clients and hiking fees. The industry is also likely to attract the attention of charlatans, marketing services and professional services organisations keen to get a slice of the pie.

Senior mommy consultants are already taking up some of the slack in the Bay Area.

PR has hit a bit of a demographic wall, there is a scarcity of account managers out there.
What's behind the numbers?
  • Well pay hasn't budged in ten years or so by level, neither has client budgets.
  • In addition now there is more ways in which a marketer can spend their budget, online advertising in particular provides a particularly PowerPoint-friendly way of justifying marketing spend
  • Media is continually fragmenting, affecting the returns from PR and the industry image has suffered because of political shenanigans over the past decade.
  • Those account managers that are willing move from their current organisations wanting an in-house role indicates that they have been failed by agencies and the 'golden apple' of career progression to account director and beyond has left them cold.
I guess for agencies its wake-up and smell the coffee time:
  • Agency culture has failed to inspire the people that have come into the industry to make a career of it.
    • From my point-of-view most of the agencies that I see are more formal and less fun work environments for junior staff than when I started out
    • Agency culture have few differentiators
    • Many agencies are not located in areas that would be attractive to young hard working people. Often you would struggle to find a sandwich at lunch time or anywhere to go after work for a quick drink with colleagues.
  • Some money is going to have to be put on the table to sweeten the deal for them, but its going to have float the boats of all employees, not just account managers
  • The shortage of middle management cannot be solved by boosting junior staff before their time
  • The problem needs to be resolved by reexamining the manner in which they carry out their business
    • Working around having fewer middle managers to hold account relationships day-to-day
    • Providing an environment and working experience that people want to stay in
    • Find a way of increasing their value to clients so that they can get the additional money required to improve agency working conditions
  • The mistakes need to be corrected and we need to plan for a drought in quality senior management over the next five-to-ten years as maternity leave kicks in with a vengenance and these account managers move on up the career ladder
From an in-house point-of-view there is an opportunity for in-house teams to recruit the cream of agency talent and look at using agencies as grunts or strategists.

History Repeating

The year 2000 was a strange year for me in PR terms at least.

After Y2K hadn't brought the world to a standstill and society didn't break down into a sprawling epic a la George Kennedy's Max Max series the agency that I worked for got on with task in hand of making obscene amounts of money.

My accounts seemed to be a non-stop stream of major product launches, new websites and telecoms services.

I guess it was due the pressure of a number of factors, but some of my friends came to bits at the seams and thankfully now they seem to be solidly together.

I used to use a service called Zaplets to manage press release edits amongst different parties and even sign offs on appraisal paperwork. Eventually Firedrop disappeared and transformed itsself into selling enterprise widgets. Now I came across Writeboard which does a similar kind of job, but in a different way as a web-based word processor that anyone with a modern web browser canb use. You no longer have to worry if clients have the same version of Microsoft Word that you have.

A scarier reminder of 2000, is the resurgence of the internet incubator. SiliconBeat highlighted Next Internet LLC in this posting. You find out more about the Next Internet incubation business from their website here.

All we need to now is prats on microscooters.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Origami - hype and the non-launch

If you live on planet tech you can't help but notice the fuss that the blogosphere has been worked into about a Microsoft project called Origami. Its the biggest thing to hit the street since Apple's fun announcement last week.

Ok, so let's debunk some of the hype:
  • Origami is a new product launch: something called the ultra mobile personal computer (UMPC). UMPC has been touted by Intel at developers conferences for a while: so its not really news. In fact you can read here how Intel has already demoed a device last August. And if that's not enough Microsoft launched UMPC devices last April. On another note wouldn't Tablets from the likes of Motion Computing count as a UMPC by their very nature?
  • Ah, but this is a new product: no it isn't OQO have had their UMPC device out for over a year. The product design is actually quite nice, in fact if it ran a decent Linux distribution and worked with iSync core services I would be interested in getting one
  • Its a new paradigm in computing: err no. Sub-notebooks have existed for years and are very popular in Japan, PDAs do the same job in a more energy and space efficient way, Nokia has the uber cool but hard-to-find 770 device and Psion had a cracking device called the NetBook.
In reality UMPC devices is putting lipstick on a pig. Tablet PCs haven't flourished and the best way to make them cheaper (hence making them more likely to be purchased) is by reducing cost. You can do this by using lower performance parts in the name of energy efficiency, smaller capacity hard drives and smaller displays.

From a marketing point of view I love it, get manufacturers to pay for a full Windows licence which will be dearer than what they would pay for Windows Mobile, reduce the price point of the device and the component cost, give them little point of differentiation and watch them beat each other the price poiint to a pulp and potentially make a new market segment for you. And from a PR person it is a story well-spun; but it's a shame that it doesn't stand up to much examination.

Picture from of the OQO device mentioned earlier.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oprah Time

I've just finished reading two books. First up The Japan Experience by WG Beasley is a great guide to Japanese history from the sixth century to the present. If it had any fault it would be that the there needed to be more emphasis on post-war Japan, but the book is more of an overview, Beasley has a book the covers modern Japan from 1850 (The Rise Modern Japan: Economic and Social Change since 1850).

Unlike many history text books Beasley manages to strike the right balance between accessibility and at the same time providing a huge amount of content. Something that the writers of the marketing textbooks I read at college could have learned a lot from!

There are certain parallels that can be drawn from the expansionist Japan of the Meji period to secure resources and markets and the war against terror to secure resources and markets, but that's a discussion for another time...

Wordsworth Classics have always provided good quality books at a very reasonable price, in the same kind of spirit that Penguin was founded on. Their version of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu is no exception.

Tao Te Ching is the first book to do with Taoist philosophy, originally written back when my ancestors were busy raiding Ulster to steal prized cattle. The introduction by Arthur Waley makes it accessible and contextualises it for Western readers.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dunstone on....

On February 27, 2006 Charles Dunstone founder and CEO of Carphone Warehouse spoke at the London School of Economics Enterpreneurs Group.

We posted Dunstone's main speech here straight after the meeting, but didn't have time to type up some of the interesting responses that came out of the Q&A session afterwards. Dunstone's commentary is in italics.

On funding...

Funding Carphone Warehouse was partly luck because of being in an amazingly fast-growing marketplace. Probably the most amazing part of it was that I put my 6,000 GBP of savings into the business; from 1989 to 2000 there was never any other investment in the company and we never borrowed any money.

We just used our working capital and what became part of our DNA was 'make sure you've sold before you've got to pay for it' and we funded the whole business from our suppliers.

Erm, I've no shame about that at all their money is the cheapest and least questioning money you'll ever get. So, the great thing is to get supplier funding in whatever you do, they're much less likely to throw you to the wolves like the banks or a venture capital company or someone are.

And I guess the second part of that is, however tempting it is at the time, equity is priceless. I see lots of people who are trying to raise a bit of money and they feel like they're giving away the equity to raise the money. They'll rue that when the business is successful and is worth a lot of money. Do everything you can not to give equity away.

On Vodafone...

In reality at the time, everyone says they paid an awful lot of money for Mannesman, by buying it with overinflated paper. It was a ludicrous exchange rate with over-inflated share prices and I think that thing that people should be ever respectful of what Chris Gent managed to achieve was a very, very simple rule if you look at every transaction that he made: he bought for paper and sold for cash.

He never exposed, if he was over paying for a business it was because the stock market was too high, he was just as high as the business that he was acquiring in the long term he made sure that he got cash in the bank. That is why when we come to 2001 or so Vodafone was the only telco that didn't have massive amounts of debt; BT had to demerge Cellnet or O2 as it is now, France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom had to sell assets they had run up enormous debt.

On maintaining a strong internal culture...

Passion is difficult and I kind of refer to the point that I didn't, wasn't really sure how we created the culture. Part of it was my personal involvement. I think that a lot of it is consistent leadership. Leadership may not get everything right, but the bigger the organisation the greater the need for a sense of consistency, a sense of orientation and the values of that organisation.

And if I look at the people that supply us, its very interesting to see how their fortunes have changed. Originally you had Vodafone with very consistent leadership under Jerry Went and then Chris Gent, then you had Orange with very consistent leadership under Hans Snook at the same time you had One-2-One and Cellnet had different CEOs every two years business all over the place: absolute chaos.

Then you get a change: Orange gets sold, France Telecom changes the leadership of Orange constantly: Orange becomes a complete mess. O2 gets consistent leadership, O2 becomes a successful business: sold to Telefonica for enormous sums of money and through all of this I don't think that you can underestimate the value of having really consistent leadership. This has an impact on passion and people.

On VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol)...

I think that the difference between Europe (particularly the UK) and the US is that VoIP will be very big in businesses, in residential homes you can't have broadband without having an exchange line: that's the way the regulator has decided it wanted to make sure that BT can make a living. If you've got broadband, if if you don't want it, if you pick your phone up you're going to get a dial tone that you can make a phone call from. Once you've got broadband unbundling, once you've got a connection from the exchange to the home it doesn't cost you anything to connect a call whether its over broadband or you pick the normal phone up.

So suddenly a normal phone has the exact same economics as Skype, so I think what will happen, what you will see people like us do is offer VoIP-priced services on your normal phone at home without you having to put a headset in your PC or mess around and do all that kind of stuff. There are some people who will find reasons to do it and things that they want to do within it. The majority of people with a fixed-line are people with a family, over 30 years old, 50 per cent of it is there home alarm and ring people, 50 per cent of it is that they want to be able to ring the fire brigade if the house catches fire in the middle of the night. You won't get them to use their mobile or use VoIP as they want to sit by their bed, get a dial tone and dial 999.

So I think in residential its not going to have a massive impact, in businesses its a different thing, with VoIP you can have multiple lines over one exchange line and that's going to completely revolutionise business telephony.

Vonage is already more expensive than we are for your phone service and we're not even using an unbundled broadband line on it. The economic difference is very different here than it is in the US.

On where mobile phones are going...

I don't have a clue where things will be in ten years. A few predictions on mobile phones, it is a unique device because the last 15 years have changed the world, more than it had changed for 500 years before that. 15 years ago, no one left their home without their money and their keys, now no one leaves home without their keys money and mobile phone and its taken a part in peoples lives that no other product has for hundreds and hundreds of years.

That relationship is so powerful that if a producer wants to gets content to you, they can guarantee if if they can get it to a mobile phone, so that's why we see cameras, now everyone carries a camera and a mobile phone. Soon everyone will be an iPod and a camera and they'll keep getting better and better. By next Christmas you'll be able to buy cameras with flashes, zoom all this kind of stuff. I think that video is going on mobile phones, I think that payment is coming, payment systems is coming onto them and Carphone Warehouse is the largest retailer of digital cameras in the UK by accident. We didn't mean to sell one of them, they just come in the products that we sell as standard and its just that everyone else's business is morphing into ours because of the unique relationship the product has.

My final prediction on phones on the next year to two is that fashion is about to become a big thing in phones, at the moment they are driven by technology. We had an extraordinary experience this Christmas with a pink V3 we brought out. We've done some analysis that absolutely blew us a way, you're starting to see the manufacturers talk to the big brands about putting things into phones and people spend stupid money on pens and watches and shoes and clothes. I think that all that madness is also going to end up in mobile phones as its such a public personal accessory.

On the competiton...

I've basically got two types of competition: people like Phones4U and The Link who are trying to do what we do and we just get up early and try and do it better and try and beat them up every day. And we have a team, we meet at 8 am every single morning and look at everybody else's prices and reprice based on what happened that day its that brutal. We fight, fight, fight.

My other competition is the network stores which is a combination of wanting to have some direct impact with customers and a certain amount of vanity about wanting their brand on the hight street. They don't compete with us in terms of the volumes of sales that they do, as the market gets more fragmented I think that its less likely that the customer is going to say I just want to go and see the world according to Orange today, rather than even going to one of my normal competitors. In reality it will be let me go and compare Orange with everybody. I think that its going to change but there's not a very strong economic rationale for them in the first place.

On handsets...

The networks are kind of frightened by handsets, as its the handsets that drive churn in the marketplace, the networks would like to just to have a dozen hand handsets across the world. We know when we talk to customers that handsets are the only reason that they've come in the first place. People love handsets, they hate networks; so they want to see the widest possible range of handsets available.

On the role of technology in solving world poverty...

I have no idea, but I have my doubts and I don't stand here saying that the mobile phone is a fantastic thing that has improved the world, you can easily argue that actually the mobile phone and Blackberry and these kind of devices are doing are polarising the world and are allowing certain people to have even more power and faster decision making and disenfranscishing a huge proportion of the population. So I am no defendant of the mobile phone, people want to buy them, they feel that they can't live without them; then its my job to help them with that.

The developing world has made the leap absolutely and it may well be that they never feel the need to go and dig the street, dig the roads up and put copper in. However, I am skeptical as to the mobile phone as those peoples communications needs develop will ever give them the access speeds that they will really want to run fast broadband-type services. At some stage someone is going to have to do something: maybe its four G, WiMax whatever to bring high-speed bandwidth into those areas. McNicholas aren't going to dig the road up to put in more copper wire. We use it in countries like this because its there and why wouldn't you? If you were rolling it out here again you probably wouldn't do the same thing.

On the transition of phones to computers...

Absolutely they're changing into computers, they start to have bugs, they start to have all kinds of usability issues. Our job is very simple and I think the worst thing that could have happened for me is that there could have been one mobile phone network and one really simple phone and the people understand it so that they did not need anyone to help them set it up and work out which one to buy. So we absolutely love complex markets as this gives us something to offer and something to do we have to keep changing. I just watch in delight as Microsoft come into the marketplace because that's not going to work is it? Its going to have lots of bugs and crash and do all these sorts of things that needs tons of support. Lots of competing systems Symbian and others, so its another level of complexity alongside all the complexity of the operators, all the complexity of the tarrifs - Bring it on.

On suppliers...

We have a guy at one of our suppliers who we've named Del Amitri from that song 'nothing happens, nothing ever happens at all'.

Image of Carphone Warehouse in Oxford Street London courtesy of the Carphone Warehouse press image library.

Benefit gig

Jonny Rosemont sent around an email about this benefit gig at the beginning of April. I can't honestly tell you that I know or care a lot about West Guinea, but a DJ set by Jazzanova is well worthwhile going along for.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Branded Content & Stuff

I was reading this month's copy of Wired Magazine (14.03) when I noticed a collaboration between Lenny Kravitz and Absolut Vodka called Absolut Kravitz where the vodka brand is making MP3s of Kravitz available for free.

The first track available for download is Breathe.

The track includes artwork so when you share the track (Kravitz rock pretensions meet Sonar Kollektiv-type beats) it acts as a vodka pimp.

Seriously though its nicely done branded content that shows how the marketers have thought about the brand experience on an iPod rather more than the usual efforts.

Blowing my own trumpet time: in my work persona I have been quoted at the end of PR Week's feature on blogging - hey I have to make a living somehow!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jargon Watch

Post Traumatic Apple Event Disorder - The cognitive dissonance experienced by Apple customers when a new product launch by the company is a bit well Dell after they have been sold another miracle by Apple's global PR agency of record.

Or, having others over-promise on your behalf (if not at your behest), leaving you to underdeliver spectacularly in the eyes of your loyal customers.

Kudos to the merry pranksters at the Joy of Tech

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Back to Geocities

Google launches Pages and LinkedIn has launched a way of publishing a simple home page 'advertising' yourself from a commercial point of view.

Whilst the tools have become much simplier to use the move is counter to where new web applications and services have been going.

Click on the image for a larger view of LinkedIn's tool for creating a web profile. Google Pages has been covered extensively elsewhere online.