Journalist Nick Booth takes it on the chin – literally


I’m sure some PRs would dearly love to see certain journalists get a punch in the mouth – so you have to hand it to IT writer Nick Booth for volunteering to get beaten up in front of a paying audience. Albeit in the name of charity.

The fight took place last Thursday night at the Chiswell Street Brewery, EC1. I’d seen the rather amusing press release announcing the bout earlier in the week (the inaugural Computer Reseller News Fightnight, a night of white collar boxing – the mind boggles as to possible future combatants in the ring).

The bit I liked best was:

Astonishingly, a new survey says only 54 per cent of all PR people would pay good money to see a journalist beaten up. However, a further 46 per cent said they were pretty sure they would. But they’d have to check first, and would get an answer before the end of play. Or maybe Monday?

Anyway – view above for Nick’s valiant but ultimately doomed titanic battle with the Toshiba Titan, Jason Philips

How to check if your press releases are up to scratch – for free


Hat tip to David Meerman Scott for pointing out a neat new (and free) online utility called Press Release Grader.

It’s very simple. You copy and paste the content of your release into a box and hit submit. The site then generates a report about the press release – it checks to see if the release contains a valid contact phone number for example. But where it gets very funky is in checking any embedded links in the release – not only to ensure they are valid, but also whether the anchor text is reflected by the target link – very handy for SEO purposes. It also has a word “cloud” that lets you see keyword density at a glance – good for checking that the release is highlighting the right things. And lets not forget the Goobledygook checker – it’ll tell you how many suspect buzzwords your release contains.

Finally, it provides you with an overall score out of 100. Imagine if PR agencies started putting their Press Release Grader scores on their releases. Journalists could then choose to only view those that score, say, 85 or above.

Why not check your own releases? Or test out a few from Sourcewire to see what the general standard is.

Should vendors pay journalist press trip expenses?


I’ve been having an interesting e-mail discussion with an ex-colleague (now in-house) around the issue of IT and telecom vendors paying journalists’ travel, accommodation and subsistence expenses for foreign press events.

He raised the issue on the back of a rival vendor who has organised a 2 day press trip abroad inviting over 100 journalists from around Europe. Having seen the agenda, it does appear to be little more than a thinly disguised “junket”.

Of course, my American readers at this point may be scratching their heads.

I can only speak for the tech sector, but the concept of businesses paying press expenses has always bemused US journalists. I remember running a press trip to California in the early 1990s – we had both US and European journalists there. The US journalists wouldn’t even have a drink bought for them. They couldn’t believe that the European press had flights, accommodation, etc all paid for (and in some instances, attempting to claim for rather more, ahem, exotic items). Then again, the Europeans thought the US press were far too cosy with vendors and rarely produced negative copy in spite of their apparent transparency (the theory propounded by the Brit press being that because US publishers picked up the tab for their journalists expenses, they had to fund it out of other revenue eg advertising. So there was an unspoken rule that US hacks would only write something negative in extreme circumstances. Hence the accusation from some UK and European journalists that much US tech journalism was bland and non-commital).

A senior UK IT reporter once told me he felt the US IT press regarded themselves as part of the IT industry whereas the European press saw themselves as outside observers looking in.

Having said that, there are some notable “no paid press trips” policies over here: The Economist, BBC and Financial Times to name a few.

So. Are we likely to see a move to a more US style model of press trip funding over here?

Probably not. I suspect for many journalists – especially in IT – foreign press trips are seen as a perk of the job – a bonus to compensate for their lower wages and increased workload.

However, given the rise in coverage of “green computing”, it would be interesting to calculate the carbon footprint of all those journalists being flown abroad and back for this event.

Clearly it would be foolish to suggest an end to all foreign press events. But perhaps the main point is (as with press events of any kind, wherever they are held): was there no other more efficient way of providing the information/getting our message across than a press jolly in a sunny clime? And who should pay for it?

What is your attitude to marketing investment risk?


One of the first questions a financial advisor will ask you is: “what is your attitude to investment risk?”.

Whatever response you give – cautious, moderate, high – should determine the financial products the IFA recommends to you. Broadly speaking, the higher the potential return, the higher the risk (profit is the reward for risk).

What if we used a similar analogy with marketing investment?

Are clients and prospects seeking well above average marketing returns? In which case, they may need to spend money on original and creative programmes that have never been tried before – and thus have no track record or guarantee of success (much social media activity could be placed here). Then again, more cautious clients may seek safe returns on tried and trusted approaches (traditional media relations).

Or perhaps they need a balanced portfolio of safer and riskier marketing investments?

Of course, many clients want greater than average returns with money back guarantees. If it were a financial product, they’d be highly suspicious. So beware those who claim to be able to deliver huge ROI with little or no risk.

How to guarantee a successful career in PR for $30


I’m willing to bet that if you spoke to most people working in PR today, the name Avinash Kaushik would mean nothing to them. Even amongst the PR 2.0 digeratti, I suspect he is largely unknown. At best they might be aware he is Google’s Analytics evangelist. Those who have read his 400+ page book on Web Analytics could, I’m sure, be counted on one hand.

Well, I’m now one of them. And what a revelation. This book works on so many levels. First, it is easily the most practical and informative book on the subject of web analytics. Which would make it valuable in its own right. But perhaps more than that, he outlines a practical blueprint for a data driven, outcome based approach to business generally. Which by definition includes PR.

In many ways, he provides the real world road map for Davenport and Harris’ Competing On Analytics. The basic argument of this book is that those companies investing unreservedly in building competitive strategies based around data driven insights will significantly outperform those companies that don’t. The secret sauce here is the use of analytics: sophisticated quantitative and statistical analysis and predictive modelling. Some nice case studies too.

And hard to disagree with their arguments – however, they didn’t really provide a hands on, practical way to begin implementing such a strategy. And being selfish, I couldn’t quite see how it would work in the world of PR.

Kaushik provides the missing link. It is a huge book – and nearly every page contains some great insight – it is also helped by the fact that he is a marvelous writer. He has a great gift for explanation and a witty, illuminating phrase. I have enough material for 100 blog posts rather than just one, but I thought I’d highlight a few things that really bought my eye:

The 10/90 rule: according to Kaushik, in the context of web analytics, you should allocate 10pc of your budget for tools and 90pc on paying for human beings with analytical skills. This in many ways mirrors what I and Mr Waddington have been banging on about recently – that the cost of tools to support the job of PR are now trending to zero – and that client money should be spent on value added skills. However, Kaushik’s book made me realise that skills in data analysis will not be confined to web analytics. Businesses will increasingly demand people who can justify PR and marketing recommendations on the basis of real data and genuine analysis.

Line of sight metrics: How connected are PR metrics to genuine business metrics? While the industry still seems to be floundering around trying to develop an acceptable standard for PR evaluation, the Web analytics industry can now potentially offer the ability to connect PR value to real business outcomes. There is no reason why PR campaigns can’t now be built that can be measured and evaluated in the context of metrics that really matter to a business rather than busted flush approaches like advertising equivalence.

Statistical significance: How many people working in PR today have a grasp of statistical significance? Even those who are more advanced in evaluation and analysis probably don’t apply it as a matter of course. To use a trivial example, compare the results of two press releases you sent out – how do you know whether there is a valid statistical difference between the results of the two. Guess what. There are free tools available that will tell you.

A culture of testing and experimentation: the world of web analytics lives by tests and experiments. The world changes so quickly that you have to test and learn on a daily basis. Again, how many PR companies have an ingrained culture of testing and experiment? While debates rage about the social media press release template, why not just get on with it and test different types of approach and see what works and what doesn’t. Why are we getting hung up about the need for a template when all we should bother about is whether something works for the people it is aimed at (and why the case studies for SMRs are thin on the ground).

How many useful free tools are there out there? Loads. And Kaushik lists most of them. I’ll save a complete list for later. But here’s one that made me think. Microsoft AdCenter has a pile of free tools for SEO. Admittedly its only based on MS search results rather than Google, but it gives you a clue as to where the world is going. One of these tools not only tells you what keywords people are searching on, but it makes a prediction of future trends. Imagine. Not only can you test your PR messaging today, but you get a sense of whether those messages will become more or less relevant in the future. That’s mind blowing.

I could go on. But that’s probably enough for now.

So. Buy the book. The future of PR is yours for $30.

Great tits cope well with warming


Someone at the BBC had fun with that headline. It is – of course – referring to the fact that researchers found that great tits are laying eggs earlier in the spring than they used to, keeping step with the earlier emergence of caterpillars. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Which Twitter personality type are you?


An absolutely fabulous post by Pete Blackshaw over at ClickZ on the different personality types emerging in Twitterland. He uses the device of imagining what Niccolò Machiavelli would think of today’s Twitters.

For example:

FlackSmackers. These are journalists or high-reach bloggers who use Twitter to publicly complain — nay, groan — about lame PR or shill-induced pitches. Machiavelli cites Brian Morrissey of Adweek, for example, as someone who’s on a “hair twitter” to out bad pitches and shills.

Rory Cellan-Jones has been doing his fair share of this on Twitter over here.

See below for the full list of personality types. You know who you are. It’s a hoot.

  • TweetBacks. These are folks who use Twitter as a real-time focus group for immediate feedback. Robert Scoble, Steve Rubel, and many others use Twitter like an open-end survey tool. Machiavelli wonders out loud whether these folks will get buried.
  • TimeTweeters. These folks just love to “punch the clock” with a time-stamped discovery before anyone else. Their social currency, Machiavelli says, correlates with the speed with which they can put a fresh link in play.
  • FlackSmackers. These are journalists or high-reach bloggers who use Twitter to publicly complain — nay, groan — about lame PR or shill-induced pitches. Machiavelli cites Brian Morrissey of Adweek, for example, as someone who’s on a “hair twitter” to out bad pitches and shills.
  • SpamSneakers. These are the folks who use Twitter as just another marketing channel for preexisting content. They just drop the URL from the blog, newsletter, or Web page with something like, “Just blogged this.” Machiavelli warns that such individuals still have an early-adopter grace period but warns of backlash and mass mutiny.
  • BrandBaggers. These folks “bag” anything related to their brands and use tools like Twitter as a customer-service or resolution proxy. Machiavelli points to Frank, a.k.a. ComcastCares, as a classic example of a brand using Twitter to reach and engage with consumers, or even sandbag potentially bad news. (Full disclosure: Comcast is a client.)
  • BankRunners. These are the folks who post “end is near unless you act now” messages, potentially eliciting a sense of panic — a run on the bank, if you will — among Twitterites. Here’s a sample post from high-reach Twitter maven and search guru Danny Sullivan: “smx advanced 85% sold, less than 100 tickets left. today’s early bird deadline so more will go. not joking, book now.”
  • RingCiters. These are the folks with real or virtual ring-side seats at sporting events who can’t resist sharing even most mundane play-by-play, as though the rest of Twitter Nation is glued to their modern day Howard Cossel-inspired tweets. Really exciting stuff like “he’s about to shoot” or “Kobe’s breaking a sweat.”
  • Tweetniks. People who try to write literature with Twitter. Every once and a while you’ll find someone turning Twitter into haiku.
  • FamilyTweeters. These are folks (like myself) who tweet about the most mundane of family-related issues. We’re usually (mistakenly) convinced Twitterites are interested in our family drama and engage in silly comments like “Just changed a diaper,” or “Back from childcare.” Machiavelli warns me that family tweets will decrease the more my Twitter network grows.
  • ProudRouters. Quintessential connectors, these folks love to forward things from other Twitter posts. In Twitter parlance, the ProudRouter usually puts the @ in from of Twitter profiles. By definition, they’re social connectors and love to bring folks together, make introductions, and take credit for matchmaking. Former colleague Max Kalehoffis a classic ProudRouter. Machiavelli urges moderation here.
  • TravelTeasers. These are the folks who create a bit of mystery about exactly where they are. Are they really on business? Could it be a job interview? A secret affair? Sometimes we just don’t know, but we can’t resist playing out scenarios when they say something like, “Here at Amsterdam coffee house” or something.
  • WeightWatchmen. These folks believe Twitter’s potential for peer pressure might have motivational value for losing weight or achieving some other major goal. So they report results in real time, like “Just swam 20 laps.” Machiavelli points to über early adopter Jason Calacanis, who now posts photos to Twitter of himself on the treadmill. Machiavelli has doubts about this tactic.
  • TweetSquaters. These are folks (sinister or entrepreneurial, depending on your view) who squat on well-known Twitter names. Machiavelli points to Judah, for example, the dude who registered an account ostensibly from John McCain. Then there are the bogus tweets from folks who falsely impersonate Steve Jobs or Chuck Norris.
  • AdverTweeters. Lots of brands are tweeting these day, observes Machiavelli. Tony Hsieu of Zappos.com has nearly 4,000 folllowers — a sign of Zappos’s appeal. In the process of his fans following his most mundane activity on the Zappos publicity tour, a whole heck of a lot of branding and advertising takes place.
  • Twitterazi. Even worse than paparazzi, Machiavelli warned. These folks send Twitter updates on any scoop or personality they see, touch, or even imagine. Sometimes it’s supported with a link to a photo or video feed. Sometimes you feel like the Twitterazi are after you at conference.
  • GameTrappers. These folks post Twitter messages to an entire distribution list hoping to snare an unsuspecting target to respond (usually in error) to the entire group. GameTrappers try to force adversaries to take sides prematurely, especially when they know how others will pounce on the first responder. They also know it’s extremely difficult to unwind a Twitter message.

UK tech journalists who made millions via the Internet


I read today that UK online auction site QXL is closing down after 11 years. And it reminded me of how a couple of Brit tech journalists made their fortunes in the early years of the last dot com boom.

Those with long enough memories will remember that QXL was founded in 1997 by former Financial Times journalist Tim Jackson. I knew Tim from before this when he was with the Independent. I kept in touch with him when he went to the US to research his book on Intel. I also remember meeting up with him on his return and his enthusiasm for a then nascent start up over there called eBay. Shortly after that, he went ahead and founded QXL. Tim did approach me about handling PR for his new venture. But he had no money at that point and my then employers were not comfortable about working in lieu of future shares in what seemed a highly risky venture at the time.

Clearly hindsight is a wonderful thing. QXL later went on to float on the Stock Exchange, and at one point, was valued at £2bn. Tim’s own shareholding was (briefly) worth £272m at this time. Although, he didn’t cash out at this point, he certainly made enough later to not to have to worry about his future financial security.

But Tim wasn’t the only tech journalist to make it big. Perhaps even more remarkable was the story of Richard Jones. I knew Richard from his early days at VNU’s now long defunct Personal Computer Magazine (there was clearly something about this magazine – Richard replaced Drew Cullen on the title, who went on to co-found The Register. Their then boss, editor Ben Tisdall, is somewhat of entrepreneurial talisman). Richard ended up moving to EMAP and launching Network Week. But around 1996, went off to set up a new Internet venture. Richard was a quiet, unassuming individual – so it was somewhat of a surprise to get e-mails from him saying he was in New York, sleeping on friends floors, trying to get VC investment for his business. The rest of course is history. Richard’s venture was Fortune City, one of the early success stories of the Internet years. The company floated on the Neuer Markt in Germany in 1999, and achieved a valuation of several hundred million dollars. Richard was able to cash in on this and moved to Monaco.

So where are today’s would be Web 2.0 millionaire entrepreneurs amongst the UK’s tech journalist fraternity? As Nick Denton commented after the last Internet bubble burst:

Business success, in the internet as much as in financial speculation, is down to timing as much as any other quality. In the go-go years of the new economy, commentators talked incessantly of the first-mover advantage that accrued to the entrepreneur first into a particular market. They forgot to mention that the virtue of being, not just first in, but first out.

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