Twistori: another time sink


My thanks or otherwise to Mr Pinsent for pointing me at Twistori.

As Mark says, strangely compelling. And before you know it, you’ve spent 30 mins just staring at the screen – needs to come with a health warning methinks.

Journalists being promoted by Google Ad campaigns?


Looks like Cliff Saran, Tech Editor at Computer Weekly, is being promoted via a Google Ad Campaign.

Try typing “cliff saran” site:http://www.computerweekly.com into Google and sitting at the top of the list is a sponsored link for his blog.

Would be interesting to know what impact this has on Cliff’s blog readership. Will his pay be linked to the cost of the campaign and the level of response?

More tips on journalist backgrounders


While I’m on the subject, I forgot to mention that you can use Diigo to create a neat little slideshow of your saved bookmark lists – here’s my nascent list of UK technology journalists. With Diigo you can add annotations to each page – and you can choose to do this publically, privately, or by sharing with a specified group.

It also made me wonder about the data protection implications of using this kind of approach. Previously, by creating an internal journalist briefing document, an agency was bound by the Data Protection Act. By using publically available web-based information, does this change anything? All comments welcome.

How to create a journalist backgrounder in 5 mins with Google


Anyone who has ever spent more than 5 minutes working in the world of PR will almost certainly have had to produce a journalist backgrounder in their time.

This is a document prepared for a client before they meet or are interviewed by a journalist. Although different agencies might tinker at the edges, the basic format has always remained the same – namely:

1. Name, Job title, e-mail, phone number, etc.

2. A brief bio of the journalist eg previous titles worked for, areas of interest, etc.

3. Examples of previous articles – usually the most recent ones, but often, for the sake of completeness, going back over a year or more.

In the past, this has probably ranked as one of the most manual and time consuming tasks undertaken by a PR person (and probably still contributing to the PR industry’s chronic over-servicing issue).

Although the basic contact info would normally be easy to find (though not always), and the bio information would hopefully be reasonably up to date (these days you might consider Wikipedia as a good source of bio info – check these examples for Chris Green at IT Pro and Rory Cellan-Jones at the BBC), the bit that could take ages was compiling previous articles. This would normally take the shape of ploughing back through old press clippings, photocopying the relevant ones, compiling a weighty briefing document, and then reading through it all to try and “synopsise” the content for the benefit of the client.

With print content becoming increasingly replicated on the web (and with more original Internet-only material being generated), the time taken for this task can now be drastically reduced with the help of Googe Advanced Search.

For staff journalists, the task couldn’t be easier. Let’s use the example of Cliff Saran at Computer Weekly (no particular reason to single out Cliff – any staff journalist could be used).

Type “cliff saran” site:www.computerweekly.com into Google – back comes all of Cliff’s articles and blog posts. Want to narrow it down? Use advanced search to look back over the last week, month, etc. Want to search for specfic topics or phrases? Simply add them into the search string.

Now, the PR can spend time analysing the content rather than spending most of the time trying to track down the material in the first place. And it doesn’t cost a penny.

But what about freelance journalists who write for a number of different titles? Again, a similar approach can be used – let’s take Danny Bradbury as an example. Type “danny bradbury” into Google. This will bring back a very broad range of results, but the editorial sites are easy to spot. For example, you can see he has written a piece for The Guardian. Typing “danny bradbury” site:www.guardian.co.uk into Google brings back all the articles he has done for the Guardian. Again, you can use advanced search to narrow down over a time period and/or on specific search phrases.

There are some additional benefits to this approach. You can bookmark specific searches for use in future. Even better, why not use a tool such as Diigo to create lists of saved searches that you can share with colleagues (or anyone else you may find relevant). Why not share with clients and allow them to carry out their own reading and analysis of a journalist’s coverage? If agency and client share and compare their findings it should create a far more accurate picture of what a journalist might be interested in.

In short, a journalist backgrounder can be reduced to a series of web links that take no more than five minutes to create. As opposed to a lengthy tome that is time consuming to produce and doesn’t allow for any kind of interactive analysis.

PRs should now be able to focus on value added analysis rather than data collection. It might even go some way to reducing the over-servicing issue – which is no bad thing.

An open source model for PR?


For a number of years, I ran the UK PR account for MySQL, the ubiquitous open source database (and recently acquired by Sun for $1bn).

In that time, I got to know some very bright people there (not least the inestimable Marten Mickos, MySQL’s CEO), as well as getting first hand insight into an innovative new business model. Back in October 2006, MySQL’s VP of Community Relations Kaj Arno announced the then introduction of MySQL’s Community and Enterprise Editions with a quite telling phrase:

We aim to better serve both categories of MySQL users — those who are willing to spend time to save money, and those who are willing to spend money to save time.”

The parallels with the world of PR are quite similar. The traditional tools that have been employed by many client companies to support their PR efforts are now in many cases free (or at worst, a minimal cost). What is the role of a PR consultancy in a world where many of its traditional services and “black box” solutions are now freely available?

In my view, the answer lies in MySQL’s open source model, transferred to the PR world. Those who are prepared to spend time learning how to use these free (or near free) tools – and share their experience – will benefit from a greatly reduced financial cost. Rather than hoard knowledge, there will evolve an open community of PR practitioners – both agency and client side – prepared to share their experience.

However, there is clearly going to be a demand from client businesses to create solutions more quickly – and they will be prepared to pay for this expertise. PR consultancies will thus move to a paid-for support and services model a la MySQL.

Far fetched? Gentle reader, I welcome your feedback.

Do the public think PRs are liars?


Roy Greenslade at The Guardian has picked up on a new survey that looks at public attitudes to PR:

According to a study by Ciao Surveys, 60.3% of people in Britain believe that PR officers often lie, while only 3.3% are convinced of the opposite. Additionally, only 17.9% of the respondents think public relations have a positive effect on society, against 26.5% who disagree.

Despite these findings, the survey shows that nearly a third of Britons believe the PR industry is a necessary one at 32.7%, as opposed to only 21.1% who believe it to be unnecessary.

Respondents evidently showed a good understanding of the industry because, when asked about their impression of a PR officer’s main job function, they stated it is strongly related to: media relations (49.6%), event planning (18.2%), advertising (9.5%) and word of mouth marketing (7.9%).

According to Ciao, 55.1% of respondents seem to be aware of the symbiotic relationship between the PR industry and the media, as they declared that the two are biased by each other.

Some people recognise that the media are the main vehicles for the PR industry’s messages, with 13.8% believing that up to half of the content in daily newspapers is initiated by public relations, and a sizeable group think up to 80% of the content in consumer magazines is PR-related.

I’m curious to know how the word “lie” is being defined in this context. Do they mean outright untruths or lying by omission? If PRs were uttering outright porkers to the extent the public appears to believe from this survey, I think we’d know about it. I suspect it is more an unspoken distrust of PRs (apparent) attempt to influence by careful selection (and omission) of facts. I think there is a qualitative difference between simply wanting to put your best case forward and deliberately trying to bamboozle your audience – the latter, surely, an ultimately doomed strategy – the truth will always out.

PR is evil. Discuss.


How to create a (free) powerful media monitoring and measurement system with Google Reader, RSS, Google Alerts and Blist


Media monitoring is a staple part of PR life. You monitor target media to find out what things are being said about your organisation or client (good, neutral, bad) and you track whether your key messages are getting picked up (or not).

Clearly there can be a lot more to it than this – but generally speaking, this is what most PRs are doing when carrying out media monitoring.

Traditionally, this has been a time consuming and expensive business. You wait for a pile of press clippings to come in, someone has to read, analyse and collate the information – and then distribute in a format that makes sense to people. Often, by the time the analysis is complete, the information is out of date and useless for the purpose of taking action.

As we all know, things are different now – certainly online. And by combining a few free Google tools, any company can create a quite powerful media monitoring system. Here’s how.

First – set up some Google Alerts. These automatically track coverage related to key words or phrases you specify. So you may want to track your own company name, competitors, plus key messages of your own and rivals. Most people using this probably have these alerts e-mailed to them. Even if you set up specfic filters, this can lead to a lot of email to read – and in a format that is hard to analyse or search. Which is why it is very handy that you can choose to receive these alerts as an RSS feed.

Second – use Google Reader to receive these alerts. Getting the alerts via this method has a number of benefits. You don’t get your inbox clogged up with lots of emails (which will happen if you have popular key words or request frequent updates). You can organise the alerts into folders to allow easier reading and analysis. But perhaps the best part is the ease with which you search on saved alerts. So for example if you wanted to see which key messages have been picked up in a particular category, just search. Voila. And you can use other Google Reader facilities to email key coverage to relevant people, share, or “star” for special attention. You may even want to export specific coverage into a database such as Blist where can rank coverage and analyse – as well as share with relevant people.

I know. There is more to media monitoring and measurement than this. And it only covers online (imagine if Factiva provided RSS alerts on keyword searches – then you could cover both on and offline).

But for many organisations (especially SMEs), here is a way to have something in place that won’t cost a penny – other than the time to set it up. And something is better than nothing.

How Twitter got me on the front page of The Guardian today


Well, at least my Twitter ID.

Having blogged earlier about my question to 10 Downing Street via Twitter, I hadn’t quite appreciated the content of today’s front page Guardian story – namely a precis of those of us who quizzed the PM’s Twitter persona over the last few days.

Will this blaze of publicity add 000s to my Twitter followers? We’ll see.

UPDATE: My thanks to Martin for pointing out the fact I had failed to mention my Twitter ID here: andismit

BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones: a case study for the death of the journalist background briefing document?


I have never met BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones – but I feel I know a lot about him.

If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll have discovered the following things in the last week or so:

1. On April 11, he couldn’t work out whether the 11 minute audience he was granted with Michael Dell in “a dull Hilton room” was worth the trip.

2. He was miffed to find that The Guardian had run a front page story about Twitter this morning – just as he was preparing a piece about it for the Radio 4 Today programme.

3. He stayed up to blog about Google’s fiscal results last night.

4. He got up early a few days ago to do an interview with Radio Wales – but they stood him up.

5. He watches The Apprentice on BBC TV. And he thought Sir Alan Sugar fired the wrong candidate on this week’s episode.

6. He was meeting someone senior over from Microsoft this week – he wasn’t quite clear what she did.

7. His wedding anniversary is April 7. And he has been married for 18 years. Because he was up at 6am on that day talking about the internet and marriage.

I could go on. But you can see all this for yourself here.

So what has this got to do with press briefing background documents?*

Traditionally, the typical PR company had laid great store by the amount of background briefing information it can provide on a journalist to a client. In the past, this kind of thing would be jealously guarded by the agency – and client’s would pay for the privilege of getting access to this stuff (and let’s be honest, many of these so called briefing documents have been works of fantasy, based more on guess work rather than hard evidence).

However, if more journalists adopt the Rory Cellan-Jones approach, then this information becomes freely available to anyone (even if they don’t, the amount of info that is now available out there on the Interweb rather than held on a PR agency server is huge). Rather than create a 40 page MS Word document for a client (which they probably won’t read), you could set up a simple web page with links to RSS feeds, Twitter/Facebook links, etc that presents all of this information in one place. And of course, because it is fully searchable, your client can filter the info as and how they see fit.

So where does the PR company add value in this model?

To me, the value comes in being able to help the client build the profile in the first place. And interpreting the information appropriately to help build an effective communication strategy. But the days of PR companies trying to make money out of pretending they have some kind of secret insight into a journalist are numbered.

*Definition of press background briefing document: a document compiled by PR consultants for their clients to provide as much information as possible about a specific journalist they are targetting or meeting. It typically contains basic factual information such as contact details, areas of interest, previous articles, etc. It also usually has agency guidance as to what messages would be appropriate to deliver to the journalist.

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