Friday, 25 May 2012

Inside PR

The exact definition of PR (be it Public Relations or Press Relations) is often open to debate, and is constantly evolving – which is perhaps no bad thing as we work directly with the rest of the business sector which is constantly evolving too. One facet of PR that does sometimes get forgotten though is its ability to not only speak to the outside world but also to reach out to employees inside an organisation too. Take for example a staple PR subject, a new client win. Of course it’s something you want to shout about to everyone who will listen, and rightly so. It shows your finely tuned company machine is doing its job properly. But a positive public announcement can equally boast morale internally (both in-house and to close partners), showing your team that what they do is valued and that you are proud of the achievements.  MCC has always recognised the benefits of internal PR but is also aware of the sensitivities of company employees. Many organisations use PR techniques internally to talk about good news or important items – it’s important that the stakeholders feel they are in the loop. The flipside is that an ill-judged public statement that doesn’t inform the employees first can have a highly negative effect on morale, especially if it’s bad news. PR can be as much about internal communication as it is about telling the rest of the world about your business.

Cookies (the Internet variety, rather than the delicious biscuits that MCC loves as much as anyone else!) have been in the news today as the BBC News website reports on new legislation that intends to make it clear to users that their information and web usage are being recorded. For the uninitiated, web cookies are small files held on your computer browser that affect the way you view web pages. Commonly these are things like saved passwords or bookmarks, but they can also save details of items you have viewed potentially to buy (such as clothes, music or anything else available online) and then tailor advertising to suit the kind of interests they deduce that you like. Obviously this can raise questions over privacy and the new legislation aims to make it clearer than your details are being tracked so you can make informed choices as to where this information is saved and used.

Ever wondered what all the Twitter hash tag stuff is all about? Buzzfeed is running an article that shows you what seasoned Twitter users do with this humble symbol to promote their clients, their products and their services to the rest of the Twitter universe. Of course the hash tag system can be used for anything and trending topics can as easily be comedy YouTube videos as serious news, but to get on the top of a list is undeniably impressive - especially as Twitter is even becoming a popular source for some of the more traditional print and broadcast media.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The Benefits of Case Studies

Customer and third party endorsements are invaluable to any organisation and can ultimately help raise the profile of a product or service. With tight constraints on budgets, and organisations apprehensive about investing in new technology or solutions, case studies are extremely useful for companies to showcase their products and services, as they enable prospective customers the opportunity to quickly research the market, find out if another company had a similar problem or need and how it was resolved. According to research, case studies are the second most influential type of marketing collateral (trailing only white papers) and the third most widely consumed type of marketing collateral (behind product brochures and white papers). Salespeople find them extremely useful for attracting new customers, especially when attending events and meetings, as they provide something tangible that clearly shows what they can offer and how they can solve a problem. The media also need case studies to understand what a particular client has done or can achieve, and the marketing team benefits from them as they clearly outline the expertise that a particular organisation has in its market space. A good case study will detail clear specifics, the tangible business benefits of a product or service and how it helped the named organisation commercially. This will provide any prospective customers with information that they can relate to and help differentiate from competitors. The one rule that must be adhered to though, is getting approval from the customer before anything is drafted, published or distributed. Nothing should ever be issued without explicit permission from the customer, and this doesn’t just mean the main point of contact. Usually an organisation will have a corporate communications team which will want to oversee any marketing activity that mentions the company name. Failure to adhere to this process can badly damage a relationship and any future business dealings. After all, it is their reputation as stake as well, so keep them involved and allow them to review before you publish. Customers should always have the final say on any copy and be given the right to change any inaccuracies or comments they feel uncomfortable with. It is also advisable to get this permission right from the start, otherwise all the hard work of researching and writing the case study will ultimately be pointless. Once approval has been given to proceed, a well-written case study should reveal the pain points that an organisation faced, a legitimate problem, establishing a relationship between that product and a real-world application in a production environment. This needs to be achieved by providing details to questions such as: What types of problems do they use it for? How do they use the product or service to solve those problems? What does it look like in use? What were the tangible results? If the case study answers these questions in a clear manner, then it will provide a good insight into what can be achieved. Remember, results are paramount to a good case study, so they should include as much detail of savings and return of investment (ROI) stats as possible. Many organisations like to shout about a brand new client, and for good reason. However, the power of older customers’ testimonials shouldn’t be underestimated, as these can often provide better information and more insightful statistics, as well as indicate an ability to establish a long-term relationship, which may be more convincing to a prospective customer. Increasingly, customers are now looking for a number of different formats to base their decision-making on. Not only do they want the in-depth longer stories, they also want shorter, summarised versions for an at-a-glance understanding of the solution and results. This helps the decision makers, usually the CEO or MD of a company, understand the benefits of the product or service on offer without having to wade through the technical and more detailed analysis. Including infographics can also help this cause, providing a strong visual overview of the product or service. In fact, organisations are increasingly producing video case studies to help promote their products and services. If done right, kept short and to the point, a video case study can include more content and deliver a visually stimulating message that can be more memorable. A combination of human interviews, graphics and site/product footage works best. These can then be uploaded to the main website, and the links distributed via email shots and to the media. A good diversification of customer stories, in a variety of different formats, should provide an organisation with all the ammo it needs to attract new business and to stand out in a competitive market.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Losing the paper trail

Photo credit: info4security
This week MCC attended the IFSEC 2012 security and emergency services show at the Birmingham NEC, which is one of the key events of the year for a number of our clients. Having attended the show (like many others) for the last few years it’s always interesting to see what changes and what stays the same. Being the Swiss Army Knife of venues, the NEC manages to retain a general familiarity to the visitor, whether it’s hosting a trade show, car show or Crufts dog show - but the content can change radically depending on the topic (or even which year you are visiting the same show!) A lot of shows suffered from the economic downturn over the last few years, with organisers carefully disguising the empty parts of the hall with clever partitions, but IFSEC 2012 seemed to be buzzing this year (certainly when I attended on Tuesday – I had to queue to get in). This year there was a great array of products and services, with the various CCTV and crowd monitoring systems being the most visible (if you pardon the pun!) However, noticeably there seemed to be a lot less printed material available. Whilst electronic press packs are the norm these days, the downturn in paper was perhaps a bit of a surprise. Maybe the growing popularity of web based resources has had an effect on this? There certainly seemed to be more QR codes on display so visitors can scan them on their smartphone and instantly be taken to web-based information (although I found the 3G signal curiously weak for a location that surly must be a prime one for mobile providers?). It’s a question of whether this move from printed to online content will leave a greater lasting impression on the visitor than a handful of marketing materials? Whatever you standpoint, it certainly made the walk around clutching freebies and brochures much more comfortable!
The real value of Facebook has finally become public knowledge with its floatation on the Stock Market, as reported today on the BBC News website. Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s stake has been valued at $19.1bn alone, not bad for founding a website that is used for free by millions of users each day. The article suggests that each user of Facebook only generates $5 per year, but with 900 million of them that’s a lot of loose change to count!

As further testament to the online life becoming even more integral to the daily routine, it was reported this week that Twitter now has 10 million UK users, as covered by The Independent. Worldwide it commands a figure of 140 million users, a huge amount when you consider that is over twice the UK population. Like all social networking websites Twitter offers users whatever they are prepared to put into it – so as well as offering an outlet for fame-hungry celebrities it also gives companies and individuals the chance to have their say outside the traditional media-controlled outlets. The fact that Twitter is ideal for mobile comms must be one of its biggest draws – making it simple to use and follow from virtually anywhere with a fixed or mobile connection.

Staying on the theme of Twitter, The Guardian also ran a story this week looking at the links to news outlet stories hosted using Bitly, the popular URL shortening website which is a godsend to anyone trying to fit a link into the 140 character limit on Twitter. Using a map, the survey aims to show the favourite online news destinations for all the parts of Britain and shows some interesting results. We can all make judgements on the political leanings of viewers of websites for The Sun or The Mirror (and the Scottish and Welsh press respectively) but there are some interesting regional pockets for less obvious candidates -such as The Telegraph and The Guardian, that might surprise you!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Lights, camera, PR!

A few years ago it was claimed that the UK has more CCTV cameras (per head of population) than anywhere else in the world. Certainly the digital camera has revolutionised the way we see our world – pretty much everyone’s mobile phone has one too and it has offered us all the ability to record newsworthy events and put them on the web, often before the news big boys can do so themselves. Equally, reality TV and its online offshoots have made the idea of one day finding wider recognition a far more achievable goal. It’s something which we have been continually reminded of again this week as we have helped PR Britain’s Got Talent hopefuls Kai and Natalia (*insert shameless plug here* – don’t forget to vote for them in the final this weekend!!) – who have been doing the rounds of TV (as well as radio) interviews. And yet the idea of being filmed professionally for business exposure is something that I would wager fills many people with dread. This leaves something of a paradox. Whilst the opportunities (and demand from the media) have never been higher there is something about the perceived permanency of recorded footage that can turn a confident, well-informed and interesting potential speaker’s knees to jelly! At MCC we have recognised the value of producing filmed PR for a long time. Services such as YouTube have brought filmed publicity to the masses and yet there can be even greater rewards in offering good quality video content to the press. Some of our press contacts like to video interview industry experts directly as well, which can offer some great PR coverage that reaches out to exactly the audience you want to be talking about your company, services and products. If you’re happy to give a confident presentation to a room full of people, it’s not a great leap to do so to a good interviewer and a camera.

The world of mobile apps providers had a new member this week as Facebook launched its own app store, as reported on the BBC news website. Already offering a number of mobile versions of its ubiquitous social networking website, the company obviously sees there is a good market in offering other apps. A key USP is that the apps will be tethered to Facebook to operate, a shrewd move it could be said for cementing users to the website which must already be a permanent fixture for a large percentage of the worldwide online community.

As 3D has become a big name technology recently it’s perhaps no surprise that it is starting to make an impact in the business as well as the consumer sector. V3 reported this week on Microsoft’s Mirage Table, an augmented reality product that uses a 3D teleconferencing system in which users can move around a virtual space and move virtual objects. Whilst a full production model is some way off, it’s an interesting development on the way we view our media. Debate in the MCC office this week centred on how technology visuals will continue to develop and realistic 3D (once the preserve of sci-fi) seems to be getting tantalisingly close. It might make some people want to reach for a good old-fashioned printed book for their escapism in the future, which would be a nice irony!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Visiting the local

When you think of targeting the press do you think of magazines that cover your industry and maybe the national newspapers for a big story? It’s sometimes easy to forget the local press and whilst each title may cater for a narrow geographical audience, in a densely populated region this can equal a considerable large number of readers. Additionally many local titles are syndicated; meaning news gets shared around the group and ultimately reaches a much broader readership than might initially be recognised. We’ve had a good reminder of the importance of the local press this week as we’ve continued to help promote Britain’s Got Talent hopefuls Latin-American and Standard Ballroom Dance partners Kai Widdrington and Natalia Jeved from Southampton, pitching to the local Southampton Echo and Meridian TV. We have also been conducting PR around the visit of a local MP to one of our IT clients, which also garnered local press attention. A successful local business being recognised by a prominent politician is an ideal photo opportunity for the regional press, giving just the kind of local angle that makes local newspaper editors sit up and take notice. The key, of course, is to make sure stories appeal to the local interest – local people, photos of people in the area, local issues or campaigns, charity events - anything that has local connections or connotations. We have had clients gleefully tell us of the pleasure of receiving praise from their customers and partners for good local coverage. For many businesses it is a superb reputation enhancing experience that makes the effort all the more worthwhile.

Turning to technology news, Samsung has this week launched its new flagship Galaxy S3 smartphone, which offers a raft of new features, as reported on the BBC News website and The Guardian to name but two. In the past, headlines tended to concentrate more on big launches of software like MS Windows, but more recently Apple has become the master of big product launches as mobile technology has taken centre stage in consumer IT. It is testament to the importance of Samsung as prominent brand in smartphones that it was able to conduct such a big, well attended launch event that could rival its big fruit-named rival. Along with its tablet range, Samsung seems to have its eyes firmly on offering a credible alternative to the iPhone and in the tit-for-tat world of spec one-upmanship, intends to leapfrog its competitor. The press love a bit corporate rivalry and we’re sure none of the parties involved will suffer from the increasing press and public scrutiny of a sector that seems to be becoming more and more dominant in the world IT.

The old technology and political hot potato of Internet Porn hit the headlines again this week, as PM David Cameron waded into the debate by pledging support for an ‘opt-in’ system for anyone wishing to view adult material, following a cross-party inquiry into the subject. The Telegraph ran an article on how campaigners are celebrating the high profile support for the idea, whilst civil liberties groups have attacked it claiming it will censor all manner of normal websites and that parents should take responsibility for protecting their children. It’s a highly emotive argument and one that was perhaps inevitable as the Internet has come to mirror the human population that builds and maintains it. It’s a classic example of technology and morality colliding and the only thing that is certain is that whatever happens it won’t please everyone.