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.
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