Thursday, 28 June 2012

Entering the ‘Silly Season’

With July on the horizon, the term ‘The Silly Season’ will soon be getting its annual airing. If you’ve ever worked in the publishing industry or had close dealings with it, you may have heard the term. What it describes, in a nutshell, are the mid-summer months where there is the emergence of more than the average quota of frivolous or soft news stories in the media. In the UK, Parliament takes its summer recess and many people across the northern hemisphere take their summer break to (try to) enjoy the sunshine. All of this means the press are scratching around for good headline-grabbing news stories to maintain the interest of readers – which also means it can be a great time to target your key publications with stories, case studies or opinion articles. Whilst here at MCC we would normally advise long-term planning of a PR campaign to raise awareness and your company profile, there is no denying that ‘The Silly Season’ can make it a lot easier to gain column inches than perhaps in busier periods. In many ways, the real challenge is actually finding stories that don’t match the mood of ‘silliness’, as it can be a quieter time for the business world too. Also, inevitably, the readership will slump a little during the mass movement of people, so it’s probably not a great time to launch your flagship new product or service. However, your competition may be suffering a similar lull in news stories, so pitching good opinion articles, for example (perhaps centring on topical issues for the summertime), may well grab the full attention of news-hungry editors and equally keep up the momentum of your PR campaign. As Noel Coward once wrote (and sang!): ‘Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun’, but what’s wrong with taking advantage whilst the opposition is hiding in the shade?

One of the biggest UK technology stories of the last week has been the system failure at NatWest, which disrupted payments across its customer base, as reported by The Telegraph. Started by a computer glitch, the story hit the headlines as it illustrated how vital IT networks are to the everyday life of normal people. NatWest understandably, and rightly, took steps to assure its customers that it was doing everything it could to minimise disruption – opening branches outside hours to solve problems and was highly apologetic in its communication to customers and the press. It will be interesting to see if people are won over by NatWest’s honest approach to the problem, or if it will shake confidence in them as a service. Perhaps, as is often the case in the wake of a crisis, it will actually improve the reputation of those involved as the public awareness realises that NatWest will be even more vigilant in future.

The BBC News reported this week that France is switching off its Minitel communications web. Although perhaps not that well known outside its host country, Minitel was in some ways a 1980s blueprint for the Internet – offering remote access to services and information using dedicated desktop sets (which look brilliantly retro now!) It was an interesting experiment and one that proved popular (at its height, Minitel had 25 million users and 26,000 services on offer) and a typical French show of going its own way - in many ways it was a political statement of independence as much as a technology one. Minitel was distributed free of charge by the state-owned PTT (now France Telecom), which meant that even the poorest of households had access – an interesting echo of current UK government aims of providing the whole population with access to the Internet.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Shouting about the good things!

It’s been a funny (read ‘wet’) Summer so far, with a month’s worth of rain falling in one day in some parts of the UK. We live in a country where wet weather (even in Summer) is statistically quite probable and yet the British do like to complain about the weather (if it wasn’t too wet it would be too hot, queue Sun headlines proclaiming ‘Phew, What a Scorcher’!) Perhaps it’s a good illustration of how the public like to moan if things aren’t just so. The business world can be like that sometimes too, customers won’t often go out of their way to praise you for a good job (although thankfully it does happen and it makes everyone concerned feel good) but they are more likely to make a complaint if the service or product falls short. At MCC we’ve always felt this is where a good PR campaign can make the difference. Winning a new client or contract is a good example of a good news story but they come in many shapes or forms. Anything that spells good news for the economy as a whole will catch an Editor’s eye (a new production plant, new projects and new staff are prime examples) but even positive human interest stories (such as a team member who has been with the company for many years) are great things to be shouting about. We all like a positive news story, it certainly makes a nice contrast to negative headlines! With regards to the weather I’m sure we’ll all continue to moan, but look on the bright side - the UK is hosting the Olympics games and England is still in Euro 2012 (okay, that seems to be a moot point for anyone else in the UK!) so there is plenty of good news to be talking about despite the (almost always) disappointing climate.

Tech Rader covered a slightly embarrassing story on Microsoft this week Рthe IT giant issued a public apology over what can perhaps be best described as a risqu̩ song and dance routine at a launch of its new Azure Cloud platform in Norway. Just to make things even more uncomfortable the words to the song were displayed on screens in the venue so there was no denying the double-entendres. The video of the event, which appears to have been taken by somebody in the crowd, highlights that any kind of ill-conceived joke or stunt (that in the past may have been quite easily contained) can very quickly be captured and released into the public domain, risking the reputation of even the mightiest business.

The BBC News ran a story this week on Linux creator Linus Torvalds who has shared a win of the Millennium Technology prize. With the seeming dominance of Windows operating systems in the past, alternatives such as Linux and Mac OS have only recently started to get much greater coverage and public acknowledgement as they become more widespread (largely through the rapid use of tablets for example). You might be surprised to learn that Linux actually already powers many of the world's computer servers, digital video recorders, stock exchange equipment and is even at the heart of Google's Android smartphone platform – one of the fastest growing IT platforms in the world. It’s also interesting to remember that Linus Torvalds started Linux as a hobby – but then that is how many software giants were born, just look at Facebook for example. Plus Linux has a penguin as its mascot -  and obviously Penguins are cool (pun intended!)

Friday, 1 June 2012

Speaking your mind

If you have already hired the services of a PR team then it’s a pretty safe bet you’re confident you have something relevant and interesting to say about your business and the industry you operate in. A good PR campaign will target the publications you and your clients read and a modern one will often embrace online social media (be it Twitter, Linked-In, YouTube and even Facebook), but good old fashioned speaker slots can be an alternative way to speak directly to a relevant audience and build or cement your professional reputation. As part of the PR service to our customers, MCC constantly monitors the opportunities for good speaker slots, which often present themselves at industry shows where organisers are keen to add value and industry insight to their delegates’ visit. Often the slots are free, sometimes they require a fee, but the right slot at the right show can be a memorable reminder or introduction to your company and your expert knowledge in the field, which is a good solid reputation builder. We’ve even known journalists to sit in the audience, furiously writing notes. It can, therefore, be a good way to generate on-going dialogue and relationships with key commentators. So, in a world where online PR is seemingly becoming king, don’t forget the traditional methods of getting you message across!

The big event this weekend (for the UK anyway) is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Probably more relevant for many of us is the extended Bank Holiday weekend which gives many people four days off (and will undoubtedly bring the roads to a grinding halt). The BBC News Website is obviously covering the whole event, but has added a good guide to the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, which will feature a huge amount of boats, from historic to working boats (including many involved in the Dunkirk flotilla in 1940), on the river to mark the occasion.

Back to the world of technology, The Independent ran a story this week on how Kensington and Chelsea’s planning regulations are affecting the rollout of superfast broadband in the area. Telecoms giant BT has halted its implementation of the systems in the area due to the majority of its requested planning applications for street cabinet rejected by planning officials. The company has expressed regret that the upgraded systems won’t be available for local businesses and residents whilst the local authority has responded by saying the boxes could threaten the historic environment of the area. It’s a good reminder that technology alone is not always the key to progress and there will often be debate over the way in which it is deployed. Equally, there have been calls for the acceleration of the implementation of the 4G mobile telecoms network in the UK, as reported on Sky News. The research, which was commissioned by mobile network Everything Everywhere (a merger of Orange and T-Mobile), suggests it will significantly add value to the UK economy – but judging by the current 3G coverage it would seem that getting the signal to everyone who needs it might be a big challenge!

The Independent also ran a story this week on Chrome's (Google’s Internet browser) growing worldwide dominance in the field. It would seem that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (which had a 95% share of the market 10 years ago) has now been globally overtaken by Chrome (although in Europe the figures suggest Internet Explorer, Chrome and Firefox are fairly evenly matched). It’s interesting to see people making active choices on their browser, certainly 10 years ago I’d wager many people didn’t even know there was a choice! On a purely personal level (and not reflective of MCC in any way) I prefer the crafty Vulpine alternative, but don’t get me started on that…