Friday, 27 April 2012

MCC International has Got Talent!

With a range of technology clients, MCC International is used to running long-term PR campaigns – so it was an exciting change of pace for us this week to get involved with Britain’s Got Talent (BGT) hopefuls, Latin-American and Standard Ballroom Dance partners Kai Widdrington and Natalia Jeved from Southampton. We have been working in conjunction with the BGT press office to manage the more localised press enquires about the pair (we have been organising press interviews with local radio stations Wave 105, BBC Radio Solent, Jack FM and Breeze FM) whilst they both appeared on ITV daytime TV stalwart This Morning. We’ve also overseen the pair’s Twitter profile, which has ballooned to 1,200 followers in less than a week since they appeared on the show last Saturday. The sheer coverage that has been generated for Kai and Natalia is quite breath-taking and a good reminder that if you get the press’ attention the PR it can generate is phenomenal, especially in such a short space of time. If it you want to follow Kai and Natalia’s progress you can do so; on their website at – it also contains links to video clips and details of their twitter feed.

From the perspective of PR, Twitter can be a superb tool. However, from a press point of view there is a debate raging as to whether it can always be trusted. The reliability of news spread on social networking sites such as Twitter was in the spotlight again this week after false reports that one of the tunnels on the London Tube had collapsed were trending on the website. The claim was later proven to be false, but not after news-hungry journalists had Tweeted and Re-tweeted the story, as reported in a blog on Hotwire. The debate of course is over the real pros and cons of reporting ‘news’ from Twitter sources. In the right circumstances Twitter can be an excellent source of information (at MCC International we keep a keen eye on relevant Tweeters) which is simple to update from pretty much any location with a mobile signal and is a great way to reach out to your chosen audience. But on the flipside it can be populated by information that doesn’t go through the normal factual checks which more traditional news channels tend to uphold. Unfortunately Twitter has become the 21st Century’s popular outlet for the rumours mill as much as a portal for genuine stories (as a run of fake celebrity death rumours has proven!) so it can take more skill to reliably separate fact from fiction.

This Monday was St George’s Day in England, but it was also the 30th Anniversary of the launch of the legendary ZX Spectrum home computer. To celebrate both of these’s home page on the day featured an image of St George rendered as if it were displayed upon the 1980s computer, with its garish, yet limited array of colours and pixelated appearance (as covered in an article on The Independent’s website). For those of us that fondly remember our Spectrums (or alternatively Commodore or Amstrad computers) it’s a nice reminder of an age when having the flashiest graphics or most outstanding sound wasn’t the ‘be all or end all’ of entertainment. In hindsight you can appreciate the skill and talent that went into producing enjoyable, spare-time dominating games on hardware that would now be totally eclipsed by a bog-standard smartphone! Of course if you really hunger for a bit of retro computer action the Internet is littered with PC compatible emulator software and the games so you can recreate the experience for the (likely unimpressed) younger generation.

Friday, 20 April 2012

It’s all about Reputation

Reputation – what does it mean to you? When you actually think about it reputation is a totally abstract concept – you can’t reliably measure it in the conventional sense and yet you know it exists. Abraham Lincoln had an interesting analogy – “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” In the world of PR and Marketing we can use metrics such as counting clippings, the number of readers reached or the number of hits on a web page, but beneath these is the more subtle realisation that getting the right kinds of positive coverage in the right press generates a deeper level of impact on the reader. Our clients will often tell us of a business lead generated from good press coverage, but equally a good campaign will generate a buzz that will present itself in recognition and notoriety from clients, suppliers, peers and even competitors. Being associated with insight in your industry is a great example. Being able to place well considered, relevant and even sometimes slightly controversial analysis or viewpoints of your sector gets you noticed by your peers and from those that buy or would consider buying from you. Good PR puts a face to a name, shows the personality of your company and highlights your expertise. We all know it is the substance of your business, the products and services, which are the main commodity and yet (as we have mentioned before) people buy from people and demonstrating you know what you’re talking about and can make a real difference is an almost immeasurable yet definitely tangible benefit.

The PR sector doesn’t often get to publically show its mischievous side, so we had a good chuckle at a spoof PR press release featured in The Independent this week which purported to announce a (fake) strike by PR professionals. Perhaps reflecting the recent spate of high-profile strike actions, the press release has its tongue firmly in cheek, with a good dose of hyperbole and self-deprecating mockery of the perceived PR clich├ęs (such as constantly arranging press briefings and drinking too much coffee). Yet amongst the exaggerations there is a hint of the often symbiotic relationship between the PR industry and the press – who now more than ever rely upon good industry stories when restricted budgets dictate they provide the news with fewer resources than ever. Having been a journalist and in PR (I’m still trying to work out if I’m Poacher turned Gamekeeper or vice versa!) I can definitely say that there are many skill sets shared between both groups and a well-managed relationship with the press is a healthy two way street.

Cliff Richard sung about a Living Doll back in 1959 (or 1986 if you mainly know the version with ‘The Young Ones’) and it seems that is a step closer as covered on the Daily Mail website this week. Japanese robot designer Hiroshi Ishiguro has designed ‘Geminoid F’ to talk and sing (well lip-sync anyway judging by the footage of it in action!) and at first glance it looks spookily real. (pictured above). Despite its Britney Spears-esque attempt at miming, you can’t deny it’s an impressive piece of engineering and design that is capturing press coverage around the world.

Friday, 13 April 2012

A PR disaster

The media has inevitably been buzzing this week with features and coverage of the Centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. At the risk of jumping on the bandwagon, it’s a story that has caught the interest of the MCC International office (not least because we are based only a few miles from Southampton Docks where the ill-fated liner sailed into history and infamy) - we could scarcely ignore the press buzz around both the sinking and the Centenary activities. Because of its place in history and the surprisingly well developed media of 1912, Titanic has often cropped up as a case study in PR nightmares. Owner White Star Line never truly recovered its image from the sinking with public attention drawn to the lack of lifeboats, the disarray over safety protocols and the very well-publicised escape in a lifeboat by the company Chairman J. Bruce Ismay, (ahead of many other passengers including women and children) as one of only 710 people who survived out of the 2,224 passengers who set sail. If the disaster happened today the fallout from the sinking (and probable corporate manslaughter case) would leave the press dining on the news for years. White Star Lines had already courted media attention on the other end of the scale to raise the prestige of the Titanic (and its sister ship the Olympic) for their luxury and speedy Atlantic crossings. But the sad truth is a disaster makes bigger news headlines (look at the recent Costa Condoria disaster to see that shipping tragedies still make worldwide headlines) and it’s a reminder that public relations aren’t something any organisation can ignore – we can all be subject to public scrutiny in the right circumstances. Looking at how the media has diversified in the last 100 years (along with print media there is radio, TV and of course the vast online world) it’s not hard to see that dealing with the PR fallout from a disaster has become even more of a challenge today, which is why we encourage our clients to have plans in place if the worst happens.

Sticking with the Titanic theme for a moment, but from a technology point of view, we were intrigued to see a BBC News story this week on the amount of telegraph message traffic that was active during the fateful hours during and following the sinking. Undoubtedly the Titanic and her sister ships were at the forefront of cruise ship design and cutting-edge technology at the time, shining examples of man’s supposed mastery over the sea, enveloping all the luxuries and technology available at the time. Guglielmo Marconi had only sent the first wireless radio signal in 1896 and yet shipping was extensively using the system to make contact with the land and other ships in 1912. It would have been as exciting then as speaking to people in space now, seemingly limitless communications anywhere to the outside world. The nature of the telegraph messages on that fateful night are intriguing too, ordinary, remarkable, ordered, desperate – very much the kind of message people would send now in just the same position (probably as a Tweet or Facebook update) and an eye opener that these were just normal people like us living (and dying) in an extraordinary situation.

Moving forward a hundred years, at MCC International we’re always interested (and sometimes amused!) to discover the latest technology ‘buzzwords’ and this week Marketing Week has published an article looking at the phrases it believes will be prominent this year. We normally suggest our clients steer clear of jargon as the press often suspects it may be a smokescreen for weak products or services, but surely there has to be a place in any piece of PR or Marketing copy for ‘Likeonomics’ and ‘Tradigital’?!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Personal Touch

Easter this year has been a good excuse for us at MCC International to embrace the ‘Public’ part of ‘Public Relations’ by organising our own Easter Egg Hunt around our base at Southampton Science Park. Whilst it’s been a fun exercise (we have had a steady stream of genuinely happy people visiting our office all morning to claim their free Easter Egg) there is a very real buzz to be had in engaging with people on a one-to-one basis and it’s a great reminder that good business is built around these relationships. A significant part of the PR campaigns we run for our clients revolve around promoting the expertise of key people in the company, showing the world that behind the corporate front are real people dedicated to providing the products and services on offer. As the old adage goes, ‘People buy from people’ and it’s an area that good PR excels in – showcasing the personality of your business and demonstrating exactly why customers or potential customers should speak to you.

Google has this week revealed more details of its ‘augmented reality eyewear’ project, which promises to offer a new method of using mobile internet services. The BBC News has covered the ‘Project Glass’ story, which includes images that suggest it is a far cry from the more traditional view of bulky virtual reality headsets, opting for a lightweight frame (similar to the frame of a pair of glasses) to make it more practical and comfortable. It also demonstrates Google’s commitment to mobile internet services in the real world, something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.

There was more tough PR for beleaguered brand Blackberry this week, in an incident that few people could have predicted. An event sponsored by Blackberry at Bankside Vaults nightclub in Southwark, central London saw a man stabbed and another arrested over the incident. Interestingly, the press not only picked up on the stabbing, but ran the Blackberry sponsorship association in the headlines. Naturally the PR machine was quick to react, with Blackberry taking the right approach and expressing concern for the wellbeing of the stabbed individual in a public statement. The press also picked up on the fact that singer Jessie J (who had performed at the event earlier) had also tweeted her sympathy for the victim – showing the importance of making the right statement at the right time. We recommend that clients have a well-defined Crisis Media Plan for just this kind of unexpected incident – you never quite know what could generate negative headlines. The Blackberry event story shows that any connection with anything in the public arena can potentially open your company to press scrutiny and it’s very sensible to make sure you are well prepared.

MCC Easter Egg Hunt Continues!

Thank you to everyone on Southampton Science Park who has taken part in the Easter Egg Hunt. There are still some tokens left in Kenneth Dibben House and Enterprise Road, so do keep looking!

Happy Easter!

The MCC International Team