Banning AVEs in PR..? You Canute be serious

Over the last week or two there’s been a proper little shitstorm (someone else’s word for it, not mine) blowing because of a document produced by media monitoring and online sentiment analysis firm Meltwater.

Some of it has been a bit hysterical if you ask me.

But before I go any further, I want to state for the record that in the past Meltwater was a client of a PR consultancy I worked at; I managed their PR account. I have also been a Meltwater customer in the past. But I have had no dealings with the company or any of its staff for a number of years.

Back to the aforementioned shitstorm.

Ball of confusion

The document from Meltwater focused on the use of AVE (advertising value equivalents) as a way of measuring PR effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) in PR activity. In short, it works a bit like this – if you got your client some coverage in a newspaper and that coverage took up about half a page, then find out how much it would have cost to put an advert on that half a page. Then multiply that cost by three (or five, or eight, or magic beans, who cares). Why multiply it..? Because PR is more effective than advertising, and therefore more value is derived from it. Which is why companies read out press releases in those little commercial breaks between the TV shows you watch … oh, wait, I think I made that last bit up.

The shitstorm (there’s that word again) struck when some people who work in the PR industry who do not like AVEs, because they are unscientific and silly (the AVEs, not the PR people… ), took issue with Meltwater saying AVEs can be used as a way of measuring ROI in PR.

The things is, there are no universally used and accepted metrics for assessing ROI in PR. That’s one of the biggest weaknesses facing PR. It’s no surprise it’s a very touchy subject, because in these increasingly digital times, when everything can be measured, the inability to directly link a piece of PR activity to a tangible financial benefit is a perceived weakness for many. There’s a set of guidelines known as the Barcelona Principles which many in the PR sector adhere to (with a fervour that frankly makes me a little uncomfortable … it’s not a belief system… or is it?) as the future of measuring PR effectiveness. I’m no expert, and you can look it up online if you feel so inclined, but the Barcelona Principles strike me as a great attempt at defining the problem; I’m just not sure they are the answer. I’m also not sure a great many businesses hiring PR practitioners, whether as agency teams, solo service providers, or in-house resources, will have the patience or the interest in something as nebulous as “measurement must focus on “conversation” and “communities” not just “coverage”..”

Pass me my slide rule – I’m off to measure a conversation.

Anyway, back to the skitsnack (hej Sverige… kan du höra mig?).

Yours truly, angry mob

Things got a bit febrile in the old Twittersphere on Friday, with a lot of noise being made by a small number of PR practitioners (and others) all sounding off quite vociferously about how truly awful it was that Meltwater should be giving advice on how to measure AVEs, how truly truly awful AVEs are, and how truly truly truly awful anyone using AVEs must therefore be.

It all got a little bit angry mob, which is never anything other than ugly, and absolutely never productive.

I was saddened (although not much, in truth) to see some leading figures in the PR world among the mob’s chief agitators. People who ought to understand that PR agencies are at the beck and call of their clients, and that if those clients want AVE figures, then the agency will provide them – to do otherwise might put a client relationship in jeopardy.

These are still trying economic times in many parts of the UK and in many business sectors – not everyone is in London or the south east, and not everyone is working with clients who operate in booming sectors. When it comes to client/agency relationships, rocking the boat is a privilege few get to enjoy; you have to be big and influential to get away with it, usually.

I wondered what it might feel like to be the head of an agency that isn’t in London, that isn’t experiencing an economic upturn, watching others in the industry heaping scorn upon you from their privileged positions. I wondered what it would be like if you are constantly compromising on what you’d like to do in order to keep clients happy (or just to keep them) and seeing one of the things you have to do being so openly mocked.

Are there better ways to measure PR effectiveness than AVEs? Yes, probably. Although that really depends on what your definition of effective is in the case of the PR activity you are undertaking. However, I don’t think it’s good enough for those in a privileged position to be quite so scathing about something that only exists because of the demand for it from clients.

Calls to stamp it out are as ludicrous as they are unhelpful, and hint at a fundamental failure to understand the economics and mechanics of the PR industry. Which is just a bit mind boggling given that much of the ardent criticism was coming from people who have worked in the PR industry for a very long time and done very well. Maybe they’ve had it too good for too long. Maybe it’s easier to point and laugh, or yell and shout, than it is to offer constructive, actionable advice on how to get your clients to give up their AVE dependency.

Back to basics

Now, about five years ago one of my PR clients was a large and well-known bank. At a kick-off meeting we discussed – among other things – reporting … how would the client like to measure the progress we were intending to achieve? We talked about a range of options and measures, but in the end the client was resolute; they wanted a monthly AVE figure that could be easily circulated to other stakeholders within the bank who wouldn’t understand the subtleties of changed perceptions or share of voice, or whatever, but for whom a simple number was the lingua franca.

It’s all vaguely reminiscent of the bit in the book The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where a supercomputer is asked what’s the answer to question of life, the universe and everything (or words to that effect) – the answer is 42, apparently. A supremely unhelpful answer derived from not understanding the question; if you don’t measure the correct outcome, you’ll never know what progress you’re making.

It also reminds me of an old saying … he who pays the piper calls the tune.

If I want something and have the money to pay for it, whether it’s AVEs or a rendition of Scotland the Brave, you won’t change my mind by taking away someone’s bagpipes, or trying to ban AVEs (what a laughable idea that is when you see it written down).

There will always be other pipers. There will always be other PR agencies … more interested in servicing clients and saying yes to everything than they are with educating their clients.

It’s basic supply and demand.

Denying that reality is a bit like trying to turn back the tide by force of your own puffed up ego.


 

Additional reading – Explaining PR’s Barcelona Principles

 

50 not out — why I’m perfectly happy about getting older

Today – 29 January – is my birthday. My 50th birthday.

Fifty. The big five oh.

This isn’t one of those help I’m getting old, my hair’s falling out blog posts full of self-pity that hopes to make you smile; apart from anything else, I’ve still got plenty of hair on my head. It’s also not one of those pathetic blog posts, where the author is clearly bitter about getting older.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said hitting 50 hasn’t felt momentous. It’s a big number and a bit of a totem for many; I think you’re expected to feel old when you turn 50 – that’s the way it seems to me, at least. There’s an expectation – from people in a specific sense and society in a more general one – that at 50 one should feel aged, past it, sorry for yourself, and maybe even a little apologetic about it.

Well, balls to that.

As my 50th birthday was getting closer I did, I admit, start to think a lot more about age and about one’s inescapable mortality, and what turning 50 might actually mean to me – if it has any meaning. It was something I reflected on even more during that strange week when David Bowie and Alan Rickman died, and a lot of people (on social media at any rate) seemed to have been caught out by the inevitability of death and its indiscriminate nature.

And so it was that I got to thinking about all the people I’ve known who never made it to 50. Most of them died because of illness, accidents or suicide. And thinking about them made the big five oh feel well… different – this is nothing to be gloomy about. It’s something to be thankful for.

There was the kid in the year above me at primary school who I sometimes played football with – hit and killed by a motorcycle when he was 11 years old. It happened during the long school summer holiday. I can still remember the look on his little brother’s face on the first day back to school that year.

There was the woman I worked with many years ago who went on holiday and never came back. She died when the car she was travelling in was hit by a lorry. She was just 24.

There was the guy I played in a band with, one of the loveliest guys I’ve ever known – dead at 43 thanks to a brain tumour.

There are more, many more. I remember their names and I can recall their faces.

Do I feel sad and sorry for myself because I’m 50, because I’m getting old? Nah, I feel thankful.

birthday balloons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Online is dead

Last month Ofcom published a survey in which it stated “people are spending twice as much time online compared to 10 years ago” and in one fell swoop revealed itself to be hopelessly out-of-touch. There followed a slew of news stories and blog posts echoing the report and its findings, all repeating the same moribund mantra of ‘time spent online.’

Going online was something we did in the last few years of the 20th Century and the earliest years of this one. You’d sit at your PC, typing in Word or doing ‘what-if’ analysis in Excel, then you’d fire up your modem, listen to the screeching of it connecting with the internet, so that you could go online. Once online, you’d send your email, or browse the internet, then you’d disconnect, and go back to what you were doing.

The world isn’t like that anymore. It hasn’t been like that for several years. It will never be like that again.

This is a bit of a man-in-the-pub anecdote, but I heard it just a few weeks before the Ofcom report was announced … a teacher asked his class of 16 year old students how many hours they spend online per day, and his class didn’t understand the question. Why? Were they particularly stupid? No. It’s because the world has moved on and the concept of online has been left behind.

One of the comments in Ofcom’s press release on the report was: “in 2010, 5% of adults used a tablet to go online. By 2014 that was 39%.”

It didn’t say what the other 61% are using their tablets for.

In a world where your thermostat is connected to the internet, your TV set-top box (or even just your TV), your games console, your phone, your watch, your fridge, even your car are all always connected to the internet, going online is just not a thing any more.

Go around asking people how often they’re online and all you’ll really achieve is letting people know you hail from a bygone era. And not in a cool hipstery way.

That same derelict way of thinking can also be seen in some of the things we try to teach young people at school and college. There are courses, a GCSE history module in particular, that seeks to join the dots between digital & social and magazines, newspapers, periodicals and even all the way back to the evolution of writing … look kids this is how come you got Facebook and WhatsApp, and all the other things that are so cool and useful.

You might as well have tried to teach kids in the 1980s that cavemen building fires were actually using the first ever microwave ovens. It’s just misguided.

ofcom
Look! An infographic. They’re cool.

 

 

Here, there and everywhere: rant

I’ve just read a story on the BBC concerning Nokia and a London-based tech startup called Lowdownapp, over the right to the word ‘here’. It’s a great example of people using words in a cavalier manner.

In summary, Lowdownapp have a check-in app that makes it “quick and easy to inform people you’ve arrived at your planned destination” according to a write-up they got in TechCrunch. You do it by hitting the HERE button, seemingly.

Ok, cool. Whatever. I’m not a fan of checking-in via apps; if I want people to know I’ve arrived I’ll probably just tell them using my voice, or maybe by waving at them. I know … old skool.

hereOne-time behemoth of the mobile phone world, Nokia object to this use of the word ‘here’ because it has a division that does something map-related which also uses the word ‘here’.

Nokia is apparently threatening Lowdowndirtydogs over the use of the word here because it, Nokia I mean, has ‘invested’ $12 million promoting the Here brand. The piece on the BBC doesn’t say how effective that $12 million investment has been. But I doubt it had garnered coverage quite like that they’ve achieved as a result of this little spat.

The BBC quotes David Senior from Lowdownapp complaining about Nokia being a massive bully: “As a small start-up trying to deliver value to users we don’t think a multi-billion dollar company will be affected by this. Life is hard enough without Goliaths squashing Davids – maybe they should focus on creating a better mapping service than Google or Apple than squishing a minuscule business.”

I find this a little disingenuous, I’m afraid; I’m just not convinced by Mr Senior’s remarks that big-assed companies like Nokia shouldn’t be worried about agile, disruptive, single-feature app startups. Of course they should be concerned.

Tech startups are frequently described as disruptive, a word I have a bit of a semantic problem with. But that’s another story. The incumbent players in any market have been warned repeatedly over the last 5+ years that, unless they watch out, some upstart startup will come along and disrupt all over them from a great height.

Have Nokia over-reacted? Yes, of course. And Mr Senior’s advice that they develop better mapping services rather than throwing their weight around is good advice, too.

But big business shouldn’t be concerned about the threat posed by startups..? Give me a break.

 

 

 

A photo for August 2014

This cross stands on a hillside in rural France. I walked past it late one evening in August 2013. I couldn’t make out, or understand, enough of the text to be able to learn who it was put there for, or by. But its presence there, quite literally in the middle of French nowhere, was touching. Whoever put it there was driven to do something in lasting memory of someone important to them. French roadside cross

A photo for July 2014

I was a boy, my bedroom faced west. I loved watching the sun set. The backdrop wasn’t the prettiest, gasometers, tower blocks, and the like.

I take a lot of sunset photos. I’d never really wondered (until now) if that was some sort of throwback to a childhood fascination. But it has to be reasonable to assume that a great many of us, even if we are unaware or in denial, are stuck in patterns of behaviour that became established when we were young.

Sunset, 15 July 2013
Sunset, 15 July 2013

A photo for June 2014

I know, I know … this is a terrible shot. But that’s not important. I took this from the balcony of The Brook, a live music venue in Southampton, last June. I’d managed to score two tickets to see Johnny Marr and his band at one of the two small-venue ‘warm up gigs’ they were doing before they embarked on the festival circuit.

I took my eldest son with me. It was his first ever gig. Johnny Marr has been a hero and an inspiration to me since 1983, so seeing him live was a really big deal. Taking my eldest son with me made it even more special.

At the gig, someone I’d never met before recognised me from Twitter and came up to say hello. The day after, this photo got Retweeted by Johnny’s drummer Jack Mitchell. It was a great night and produced some excellent memories.

Johnny Marr 6 June 2013

Why and how I’m raising money for the Brain Tumour Charity and how you can help

In May 2013, a good friend of mine – Matt Morton – lost his fight with cancer. He was just 43, and even though he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour for a couple of years his death was felt very deeply by all who were close to him.

I got to know Matt through music. I was invited to join a covers band as rhythm guitarist – Matt was the lead guitarist. I hadn’t played in a band for over a decade, but was made to feel very welcome and Matt was no small part of that. He was one of the most genuine and friendly people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

I wanted to do something to mark his passing and to raise money in his name.

matt
Mat Morton

 

I ruled out things like a 10k run or a parachute jump in favour of something I felt was more fitting, more personal … a night of live music featuring some of the people that played in bands with Matt.

And so, with the help of some fantastic people (including Matt’s widow Helen, and Adam Vickers & Justin Chilvers who also played in a band with Matt) on 26 July there will be a gig night in Matt’s memory, at which three (maybe even four) musical acts will perform, and there will be raffles, auctions and bespoke plectrums you can buy.

mfest
Plectrums will be on sale

The money we raise will be split between St Barnabas House, who looked after Matt and his family so well, and the Brain Tumour Charity, who do fantastic work in this sector.

If you can get along to the 3Bs bar in central Reading on 26 July, I’d love you to join us.

But if you can’t, please consider making a donation instead – any amount large or small will be gratefully received.

Here’s the link – http://www.eventbrite.com/e/mattfest-2014-tickets-11672622127

UPDATE: we raised more than £1,600 on the night, far more than we hoped for.

A photo for May 2014

I didn’t take this photo. It was taken decades before I was born, and shows my mother as a young woman. She’s seated on the far left of the picture. I don’t know who the other women in the photo are. I’ve chosen this as my photo for May, because 3 May would have been her birthday, and is also the anniversary of her death. I wrote this piece about her a couple of years ago.

Bella & work friends: 1940s

The end of social

I dislike predictions. But I’m going to make one… there will be no more big social networks. We’ve reached, and passed, a tipping point.

Why?

Because they’re all being strangled at birth by over-eager PR and marketing people, who – for all their impressive-sounding job titles and amazeballs CVs – seem to have completely forgotten all the basics of social.

Twitter and Facebook dominate the social landscape for most of us*. Similarly, they dominate the marketing spend of those brands that advertise on social media.

There’s a clear cause-and-effect thing going on here … first came the platform, then came millions of regular users, then (and only then) came the marketing and PR people.

That’s the way it works. The logic is pretty robust and if you felt like it, you could template it and see that it applies in many other walks of life.

Something has been lost, or forgotten, though.

Because now, when a new social platform launches, before most people have even created an account or downloaded an app there’s a slew of ill-conceived blog pieces and articles from marcomms people all treading the same tired old ground … ‘what brands should do on X…’

Almost none of them say “what brands should do is back off for a while, see if this thing gathers momentum, whether or not people will naturally gravitate to it, and if so what their behaviour can tell us about how we should use this platform – if at all.”

David Meyer wrote a piece on Gigaom which hits the nail on the head as far as the recent launch of Jelly was concerned… “Goodbye for now, Jelly – it’s not you it’s the marketers.”

And he’s right!

I’ve been an active and enthusiastic user of social media since before that term became common parlance – dig around in the archives of the Scotsman and the FT and you might even find me quoted in articles as far back as 2006 on how businesses could use social media for research and recruitment.

But it pains me when I see people in my sphere of work forever caught up in the Emperor’s new clothes outlook.

It really wouldn’t kill any of you to slow down a little, ask a few questions, be intellectually curious and maybe even a little sceptical.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, if we choose to ignore the old recipe for success, which turned the likes of Facebook and Twitter into the enormous beasts they are, we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice and we’ll eventually be over-taken by events – or smarter thinkers.

Your clients are – or should be – paying you for your consultancy. So be a consultant. If they just wanted to spend time in the company of someone to jump up and down on the spot shrieking excitedly, they’d get a job at a soft-play centre.

 

* – Europe, North America, the Antipodes, etc… ‘the West’ as it’s sometimes called.