Friday, 23 November 2007

Getting coverage on blogs

It's a terribly belated write-up (I've been moving house, I have an excuse) but I very much enjoyed the discussions at last week's Social Media Club session on how to get coverage on blogs - thanks to Niall Cook, Ronna Porter and Lloyd Davis for organising and facilitating it.

I no longer work in PR, but I do blog here and elsewhere, and I sometimes get sent press releases by misguided souls who probably don't realise that this blog only gets about 25 unique visitors on a good day, so I'm quite interested in this emerging discipline of 'blogger relations'.

It was especially interesting to learn that even people who work in online PR on a daily basis are still very much in trial and error mode when it comes to getting bloggers to write about their brands and products and companies.

However, it does seem that the bare bones of the discipline are starting to come together now, and it's nice to see the knowledge being shared across the industry thanks to the act of blogging itself. The other day, for example, Drew Benvie at Hotwire drew (no pun intended) my attention to a very useful post on the Pro Blogger blog that lists 21 tips for pitching to bloggers.

Then there's the useful feedback from bloggers on how they do and don't like to be pitched - if indeed they tolerate being pitched at all. Tom Coates's and Charles Arthur's outbursts on the subject are probably required reading now on every PR degree course in the country.

Anyway, as my own little contribution, I've made a list of five potential ways to secure coverage *without* pitching to bloggers directly, which came out of the discussion at last week's event:

1. Become a blogger yourself. You're much more likely to earn the trust, respect and attention of other bloggers if you have a decent blog too. You'll soon understand what works and what doesn't, and you'll meet some really interesting people into the bargain.

2. Get to know other bloggers. The more that bloggers know you personally, trust you and understand what you're doing, the more they'll be inclined to write about you. And if you think "they're not supposed to be writing about me; they're supposed to be writing about my company", you need to think again. In blogosphere, you *are* the company. PR people are used to being an invisible link between the brand and the media, but that doesn't work in the blogosphere, so get out there, comment on blogs, meet bloggers at events, have interesting discussions, write those discussions up on your own blog, build relationships.

3. Get some media coverage. This may seem counter-intuitive, and quite a few bloggers would probably shout me down for saying this, but a lot of what bloggers write is driven by what they see in the mainstream media. A quirky story in a popular online publication (it must be online, so that bloggers can link to it) can net you no end of secondary coverage and commentary on blogs.

4. Create the content yourself. If you write an interesting enough blog post, put an interesting enough photo on Flickr, or an interesting enough video on YouTube, people will find it, write about it and link to it. You don't have to spend millions on a viral campaign - just create something that the right people will find interesting.

5. Make the most of social networks. If you post your interesting blog post, video or photo to your Facebook account, it'll automatically be seen by all your friends, who might want to share it with their friends, who might want to share it, etc. etc. There are bound to be bloggers somewhere in your network, and this is a great way of bringing content to their attention without trying to 'persuade' anyone to write about anything. (If it doesn't get picked up, it probably wasn't interesting enough - have another go)

More reports from the Social Media Club session available at:

Richard's Blog - Last night's Social Media Club event

Renaissance Chambara - Event: SocialMediaClub London

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Social Media Club, tonight, H&K, Soho Square

Tonight I'll be putting off finishing the packing in order to attend the Social Media Club debate organised by Hill & Knowlton (where I used to work once upon a time) in their office bar in Soho Square.

The event has a very topical theme: it's a discussion about how (if at all) PRs and marketers should pitch to bloggers and podcasters.

Here's the summary:

Pitch Off! The Love-Hate Relationship Between Bloggers and Marketers

In this session, we'll explore the changing relationship between bloggers/podcasters and marketers. Do bloggers want to be 'pitched' to by companies eager to tell the world about their latest, greatest products, and if so how should this be done? And what about the marketers – at what point does building relationships with bloggers verge on spamming? By bringing together the 'pitchers' and the 'pitched' we'll try and identify some mutual common ground.

I've been both pitcher and pitched in my time, so it should be interesting. Plus it's free to attend, which sounds like a bargain to me! You can view the attendee list and sign up here.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Online video: the cause of, and solution to, all of US TV's problems?

Since I've been writing this blog I've noticed a recurring theme: while almost everyone in the media and entertainment sectors agrees that the internet represents the future of their industry, no one yet knows how to build a profitable business online.

Whether you're the head of a music label, a movie studio executive, a TV network boss or the new owner of the Wall Street Journal, you all have the exactly the same problem: how can you sell something online when it's already available there for free?

That question is at the heart of the industrial action that's currently bringing American television to a halt. Television networks - represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers - say they won't pay screenwriters any residuals (royalties) for any of their work that gets shown online, because the networks aren't making any money from it themselves.

TV writers - represented by the Writers' Guild of America - argue that the networks may not be making a lot of money from digital content now (although this fact is in itself debatable), but they have every intention of doing so as soon as they figure out how. The writers want to be sure that when the networks do start making serious money from online content, they'll get their fair share too. Until they get some assurance to that effect, they'll remain on strike.

With no rapprochement yet in sight, US television programmes are starting to shut down as they run out of scripts. Topical shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are having to run repeats, while production schedules on dramas like Desperate Housewives and 24 have apparently been delayed. If the strike goes on for months - as the last one did in 1988 - the impact on US television scheduling is likely to be severe.

For social media commentators, this is where it gets interesting. If there's going to be a vacuum in US broadcast television, what's going to fill it? The top social media bloggers, not surprisingly, think that online video holds the answer. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine suggests that the TV networks should be trawling the internet for talented amateur videos to fill the gaps in scheduled programming, while Duncan Riley at TechCrunch thinks that more people will start watching online video if there's nothing new on TV.

But Jarvis and Riley are naive to think that online video can be a like-for-like replacement for professional television programming. A few online-only productions, such as Bebo's KateModern, have proved their quality by drawing millions of fans. But they're the exception, rather than the rule. In August, I looked at Where Are The Joneses?, an online-only sitcom created by Steve Coogan's production company, Baby Cow. Despite its impressive comedy credentials, the show has still rarely garnered more than a thousand viewers per episode.

And even when an online-only show is produced by a major network and stars one of the hottest comedy properties of the moment, it doesn't mean it will be a roaring success. Clark and Michael, an American web-comedy produced by CBS and starring Arrested Development wunderkind Michael Cera, only counts its viewer figures in the tens of thousands - and that's across the entire globe.

These shows are the cream of the crop of online video: professional productions employing experienced writers, who would undoubtedly refuse to cross picket lines to fill scheduling gaps created by their striking colleagues, even if the TV networks were to heed Jeff Jarvis's advice.

The idea of amateur online video - whatever its inherent qualities - being able to replace prime-time TV programming is laudable, but laughable. Broadcast TV and web TV may become interchangeable in the future, but that day hasn't come yet.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Britain's shrinking army of bloggers

In today's Guardian, Bobbie Johnson salutes 'Britain's community of bloggers', which has 'grown to an army of nearly four million', according to a new survey by Garlik.

Is this the same 'growing' army of bloggers that last July numbered seven million, according to the same paper?

I suppose it all depends on your definition of 'growing'.

(Via The Urban Woo).

Women not techie enough for online media, says Times Online chief

Here's an extraordinary thing: the head of the Times of London's online arm, Times Online, is a woman.

No, that in itself is not the extraordinary thing. The extraordinary thing is that the head of Times Online, Anne Spackman, said on Wednesday that in future there will be fewer women in senior journalistic positions like her own. And that this is because women lack the 'technical skills' to publish their work in new online formats.

Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, Ms Spackman said:

What we need now is a level of journalistic creativity combined with real technical skills. [...] We'll see less of those people driven to journalism through their curiosity about other people's lives, and it will be those people at the junction between editorial and technology that will have the exceptional value.

The vast majority of those are men, so as a result there will be an industry more full of men than there are now.

It's difficult to know where to start with this. Perhaps with some figures: when the Pew Internet research project surveyed 7,012 Americans in 2006, it found that almost half (46%) of Americans who publish a blog are women. Studies by six different research firms agree that there are now more female American internet users than male. Here in the UK, Ofcom's latest report in August revealed that 'among 25- to 34-year-olds, women now spend more time using the internet than men'.

Using the internet is clearly not a problem for women.

'Ah,' you might say, 'but *using* the internet and *publishing content* on the internet are different things. Women might lack the technical skills for the latter.'

To which I would say: 'what technical skills?' Five years ago, I started blogging because I thought it would help me to learn HTML. Disappointingly, I quickly realised that I hardly needed to know any HTML at all. Nowadays, using a blogging tool like WordPress or Blogger, or a content management system, is barely distinguishable from using a word processor. Taking and uploading a digital photograph is about the easiest thing imaginable. The 'technical skills' needed to create online content are negligible, and becoming more so by the day.

That's not to say that there are no skills involved in creating good online content. There are plenty. It requires strong editorial skills, an understanding of what makes a compelling story, and the ability to tell that story in a way that will make people want to read or look at it online. These are all skills at which women and men excel in equal proportions.

So the sooner we get away from the notion that new media is for 'geeks' who 'love technology', the sooner we'll see more journalists - of both genders - embracing the online world and delivering great online journalism. I would have expected someone like Anne Spackman to be doing her utmost to dispel the tedious myth that online publishing is the preserve of techie blokes. Instead, she seems to want to reinforce it. Disappointing.


Right, I'm putting this blog on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I move to Cornwall and get myself sorted out*. Back in December. See you on the other side!

* I realise this makes it sound like I'm going into rehab or something. I'm not. I'm just moving house and setting up a new company. More on that story later!

UPDATE: It appears that I'm back from my hiatus now. That didn't take long...

Friday, 2 November 2007

And finally...

I'm sad to say that today is my last day in the office here at Prompt.

Yes, in the manner of Stephen Duffy leaving Duran Duran just before they hit the big time, I'm off to the West Country to noodle on a mandolin while the others go on to marry supermodels and ponce about on yachts in the Caribbean wearing lime green Armani suits.

Actually I think that analogy broke down somewhere around the word 'mandolin', but never mind.

I've been at Prompt for three and half years, and in that time I've watched it grow from a small four-person PR agency to the 20-person, transatlantic, integrated PR and marketing consultancy it is today. I'm deeply proud to have been a part of that, and I wish Hazel and all my colleagues the very best for the future.

As for me, I'm off to live by the seaside in Cornwall, where I'll continue to write for money. If you have something you want written, and you have some money, and if no one else can help, you know where I am*.

* Clue: I will still be here at this blog.

Professional journalists at loggerheads over social media

At the B2B Marketing Awards last night, my colleague Lance and I were explaining Prompt's (award-winning!) social media monitoring service to one of our fellow gala diners.

"Well, that all sounds marvellous," came the response, "but it's beyond me. I barely know how to text."

Now you might think that with blogging celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year, and Facebook being touted as the advertising and word-of-mouth marketing platform du jour, today's marketers might be more clued up by now about the importance and value of social media.

But if you're more like our table-mate from last night, you can at least take heart that a lot of journalists are equally confused about the 'participatory internet'. The past ten days or so have seen an extraordinary exchange of views about the impact of Web 2.0 on professional journalism, resulting in a high-profile resignation from the National Union of Journalists.

It all started with an opinion article in The Journalist, the NUJ's official publication, entitled 'Web 2.0 Is Rubbish'. In it, the union's National Executive Council representative for new media journalists, Donnacha DeLong, argues that media organisations that embrace Web 2.0 are undermining professional journalism by burying 'authoritative' content under deluges of comments from 'average people' (that's the readers, viewers and listeners), to the extent that some organisations (DeLong doesn't specify which ones, but I imagine the Guardian's Comment is Free site is one of the intended targets) seem to want to remove the journalism entirely and just post comments from readers.

Like Andrew Keen, DeLong appears to believe that only professional journalists are qualified to provide authoritative news and comment, and that amateurs with blogs and digital cameras should not be allowed to assume the role traditionally played by journalists. His position plays into a larger debate about whether journalists should be required by their employers to become multimedia experts, capable of taking and uploading their own photos, editing their own videos and podcasts, and writing blog posts, in an effort to mirror the way that online publishing as a whole is heading.

The NUJ appears to want to protect its members against having to learn and use these new skills, but many journalists believe that the union should instead be helping its members to embrace new Web 2.0 techniques and technologies, otherwise their jobs will be at risk. The Telegraph's online communities editor Shane Richmond and Guardian columnist and blogger Jeff Jarvis both provide critiques of the NUJ's perceived reactionism, while Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade has gone one step further and resigned publicly from the union.

So for any PR people out there struggling to deal with the new world of social media, don't forget that things aren't all that clear-cut on the other side of the fence, either.