Eggs and baskets

Being away from here has given me a chance to focus intensely on launching a new magazine without too many distractions. We now have five issues under our belt and I have reaquainted myself with the rhythms of conventional publishing. I know where the peaks and troughs of effort lie and I can get back to a more normal and less distorted life in the troughs.

Creating, editing and writing for Blue & Green Tomorrow has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. And it couldn't have happened without Simon, Lori and Dominic (publisher, sub-editor and designer respectively) and, of course, our marvellous contributors. Other people take care of 'webifying' the magazine at blueandgreentomorrow.com. You can register (free) which gives you an account tab and access to digital copies of the magazine. Otherwise much of the content is publicly available under the various themed tabs.

Even through the mayhem of the launch, I've continued to do the occasional course on how to handle the media, often with my long-time partner in crime, Martin Banks. We used to call ourselves 'Press Here' but, when we both deviated out into analysis work, we sold the domain and renamed ourselves greybeards. One look at our photos will tell you why. I also run the odd writing skills workshop for business people.

And, now, here I am blogging again. Given the nature of the magazine, I suspect that I'll be blogging more about sustainability (could a word possibly sound more boring?) than about IT. But it's hard to keep me away from software. Talking of which, I now have an HTC Desire smartphone running Android, and jolly pleased I am too. That could be another running theme.

We'll see. But, as you can see from the title, I think that a deliberate spread of activities, providing I can do all of them well, will makes for a more balanced and fulfilling life than having all my eggs in one basket.

So, the last post turned out not to be The Last Post after all, just a pause while I gathered my wits.

See you again soon.

David

 

Managing Brand and Reputation in a Social Media World

Last week I co-presented a BrightTALK webinar on the impact of social media on branding and reputation for an audience of media and marketing professionals.

The lead presenter was Cathy Pittham, MD of the European arm of global PR company, the Racepoint Group. (Its chairman, Larry Weber, is something of a new media marketing guru and has been writing books on the subject since before most of us knew it was a subject.)

I went to Cathy because I felt she’d have far more practical advice to offer than I possibly could. After all, I was a bit of an outsider to marketing and PR – mainly an observer or a victim, depending on your point of view. So it ended up becoming ‘her show’ with me asking questions on behalf of the audience.

As we went through the preparation, it became clear to me that operating effectively in the social media world requires many of the hard-won skills from the traditional media world. It also needs a cultural shift by all participants towards openness, giving genuine value and two-way engagement.

Nothing new there, I hear you say. Which is true. Which is why the presentation focuses primarily on what good stuff and processes can be nicked or adapted from tradtional PR and Marketing activities.

As we discussed the powerful combination of traditional and social media techniques, I desperately wracked my brain for a suitable parallel. All I could think of was a nuclear chain reaction, which is triggered by combining two volumes of fissile material to make a single ‘critical mass’.

Which is what led to me slipping this final image into the slide deck.

Boom

The webinar (BrightTALK calls it a webcast)  lasts a tad under 45 minutes, unless you skip from slide to slide to make it quicker (and jerkier).

The social media world changes all the time but we hope that this presentation will offer you a durable ‘framework’ for your own planning.

Interactive Infographic: How To Handle The Media

Since 1988, Martin Banks and I have been running media skills training courses. Early on, we introduced an ‘architecture’ for the process. We drew it on flipcharts for a few years then, in 2004, we formalised it and started giving it out as part of our wallet-sized plastic business card. The model acts as an ‘aide memoire’ for all who’ve attended our training.

Card

A few weeks ago, I was rummaging (as you do) some infographics – pictures that speak well over a thousand words – and took a shine to the interactive variety, where the graphic responds to the user’s actions.

I’d just been doing some training work with the Racepoint Group and, coincidentally, one of its US staff Kyle Austin wrote a blog post: Are Infographics the New Slide Shows?  Good point, I thought, having just taken someone through our ‘architecture’.

So I set to work to convert our flat image into something a little more lively. It’s aim is to refresh the memories of those who’ve attended our training and to give others an appreciation of how they might set about handling the media.

The first attempt was an animated .gif file with text boxes to expand on each element of the image. Horrible. Boring. Sequential. No user interaction. Didn’t lend itself to the web. Etc.

I wanted an interactive infographic that would work in more or less any browser and not depend on the presence of JavaScript, Flash or any other kind of plug-in. Just HTML and CSS. (I’d done some simple stuff before, here and here, so I was optimistic that it could be done.)

The second attempt was a graphic that the user could mouse over, highlighting image elements and showing the relevant text in a nearby box. The size was determined by my computer screen, which was a bit stupid because many of the people I’d like to share it with might have a smaller screen – an iPad for example.

So I reworked it with the iPad in mind. The hover can be achieved with a finger, even on the smallest graphical element. And while I was resizing everything, I added drop shadows and rounded corners to the text boxes.

If you’re interested, the end result is at How To Handle The Media

IPad1

I hope you enjoy it.

 

PS If anyone wants the gory technical details of how to do this sort of thing, I’ll pen another post. Just ask.

Media Skills 101 (reprise)

First of all, apologies for radio silence. I’ve been on holiday. Very nice it was too. We hired a motorhome and stayed at four sites in Dorset. We hired the highly specced and almost new vehicle from Ferndown-based Abacus which turned out to be a very professional company. Highly recommended if you fancy that sort of holiday.

Before I get stuck in to blogging again, I thought you might be interested in some posts I wrote over five years ago about handling the press. While a lot of the press appears somewhat emasculated these days and the new media folk are largely more kindly, the suggestions I made then are no less valid for shaping your outlook and approach to the media of any kind.

Why IT companies top Newsweek’s green 500

Hats off to Newsweek for its green rankings of the 500 largest US corporations. And congratulations to Hewlett Packard for coming first.

Hang on… Hewlett Packard came out top? Surely a software company or some other organisation that is inherently more environmentally friendly should have topped the list? Yet four of the top five are computer companies. (The other was Johnson & Johnson.) Making computer equipment is known to be environmentally damaging. In fact, when Newsweek considered the environmental impact of the supply chain up to the point of delivery, it ranked these same four computer companies at 115th (IBM), 160th (Dell), 175th (HP) and 268th (Intel). Discrepancy or what?

The environmental assessments were done by a company called Trucost. Its methodology is widely regarded and is a heck of a lot cheaper than a company having to embark on a full lifecycle analysis (LCA) of its activities. Trucost maintains a research database of over 4500 companies which takes into account over 700 environmental impact measures. 

The results are not good showings at all for the IT companies but they are in line with what you might expect. However, their ratings rocketed because the Newsweek team decided to give 'green policies' equal weighting with 'environmental impact'. And it chucked in 'reputation' as well, for a further ten percent of the overall assessment.

The main elements of the green policies score were, 'climate change policies and performance, pollution policies and performance, product impacts, environmental stewardship and environmental management.' The reputation scores were derived from, 'an opinion survey of corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals, academics and other environmental experts who subscribe to CorporateRegister.com and CEOs or high-ranking officials in all companies on the Newsweek 500 list.' Weightings were applied: 3x for CEOs, 2x for professionals and 1x for others.

You can see that the elements of the survey make sense individually and the outcomes can, no doubt, be argued mathematically. But the weighting of the scores, especially the importance given to the three major elements, has to be questioned.

Also, was it wise for the research to try and assess vastly different sectors against each other and come up with a common measure? If a company knows it is not damaging the environment too much, then why should it spend fortunes on PR and CSR to influence external perceptions and, hopefully, internal realities? At this point, one can almost feel sorry for Newsweek for having taken on such a challenge.

So is the report of any value to you? Well, yes. It does allow you to look at rankings by sector and this has the potential to be helpful, but only if you consider each contributing factor separately. You might be wondering (if you've read this far) how your potential suppliers stack up in environmental performance or in green policies. Whether you care about reputation as seen through the eyes of C-level executives of the target organisations and several thousand CSR professionals is another matter.

What you clearly don't want to do is take the overall results too seriously. Treat them as a guide. Perhaps think of them as a cake that contains all the right ingredients but which didn't quite make the grade because inappropriate measures were used.

And this doesn't just apply to the Newsweek story. If you are being told something which jars with your reality, see if you can dig around a bit for the underlying assumptions.

Virtual events aren’t real events shoved online

As you know, most of us are facing financial difficulties and some of us are becoming concerned about our environmental impacts. Or we may actually find ourselves being pushed in that direction by customer pressure or legislation.

We still like the idea of jetting round the world, or even driving round the country, in order to meet our suppliers, customers and work colleagues. But, faced with the aforementioned issues, we’re increasingly turning to online meetings and events. And, for many, the experience falls short of expectations.

Of the whole panoply of virtual engagements from webinars to telepresence, one type probably sticks out as the most likely to disappoint and that’s the virtual exhibition and conference. And this is probably because we all know what a physical event should be like, so we expect the same or something very similar with the online version.

This is a mistake.

They are not the same and each has its strengths and weaknesses. To ignore this, when planning to present, exhibit or visit, is to invite disappointment.

We are all familiar with the physical event, so perhaps it’s best to focus here on the good and the bad of the virtual. You may have your own views in which case we’d love to hear them.

Primarily, a virtual event (subject to some technical and localisation caveats) is available to all, anywhere in the world. And it involves no travel or accommodation expenses. It will still, of course, take up some of the delegate’s time, but they can generally choose when they want to visit. (The events usually remain online for a while after the initial event closes.) If you visit in real-time, you can probably participate in live Q&As, for example, but you may put a higher value on personal convenience. Because of the social networking tools wrapped round a virtual event, you will still be able to reach out to speakers, exhibitors and fellow delegates as long as the event site remains live.

Exhibitors and speakers also benefit from lower costs, although these are mostly staffing, travel and accommodation savings during the event itself. They still need to prepare and adapt their approach to suit the online world. Making a recorded 90-minute PowerPoint presentation available online is really not taking advantage of the new medium or, indeed, the attention span of an online visitor. Remember that, just as with the web, escape for the visitor is just a mouse click away. In theory, a virtual event should be able to pull together a high calibre of speaker or panellist because of the smaller impact on their time. They would probably be happier to do shorter presentations too if they don’t have to travel thousands of miles for their appearances.

A hierarchical approach to exhibit materials would make sense. Exhibitors could offer a cascade of presentations from short and sweet down to whatever depth they feel is appropriate. And back this up with a menu of downloadable materials such as case studies, product/service information and white papers. This is similar to real life, except that shelf space is infinite, different languages can be accommodated and the materials can include podcasts and movies as well as documents and links to web pages. This self-service approach has the advantage for the delegates that they don’t have to run the gauntlet of the sales team in order to lay their mitts on the collateral. They’ll come back soon enough if they’re interested. And, because they’ve prequalified themselves, their value is much higher than that of the average booth visitor at a physical event.

From the organisers’ and exhibitors’ perspective, they can collect an incredible amount of detailed business intelligence during the event. All the conversations a company has with its visitors and who downloaded what collateral could be captured. At a more anonymous level, all the visits, engagements and downloads made by delegates show the organiser which parts of the event are working well and which are not.

At real events, ‘networking’ is probably claimed as the number one payoff for the delegates. And it’s true that this physical, “look ’em in the eye and shake their hand”, contact is missing from online. This is an incredibly important facet of our everyday lives but, if you can’t afford the time or money to participate in an important event, then a virtual equivalent might be better than no event at all. Having said that, in some respects the virtual event is better because of the ability to check out companies and individuals through the event directories and make appointments to meet them virtually. It is also theoretically possible to stimulate serendipitous meetings by having lounge areas for people to virtually mingle, backed up by on-the-fly created chat rooms if they need privacy. This does, however, miss all those body language cues which tell us whether we want to make contact or not. But some things things we’re just going to have to do without if we’re concerned about our budgets, our time and the environment.

Don’t put lipstick on the pig

Today’s issue of PR influences covers ‘greenwashing’ – "the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service."

It’s good to see professional PR folk in action. Part of their job is to make sure that companies don’t get carried away with their rhetoric and make fools of themselves. Of course, there will always be poor PR folk who see their job as "putting lipstick on the pig". We have to take a certain amount of personal responsibility for filtering good PR from bad.

Once upon a time, it was easy to pull the wool over most people’s eyes, by writing good press releases, advertisements and brochures. The public didn’t have much of a voice – the letters page of the newspapers, the complaints desk of a company or the local advertising standards authority. In other words, except in newsworthy cases, not a lot would happen.

Now, with bloggers galore, some will always be expert enough to see through the greenwash and blow the whistle. And we all know how fast bad news travels through the blogosphere. And how mainstream media organisations quickly pick up juicy stories.

We hear about companies that claim to be carbon neutral which is wonderful, if true. But, if close examination were to reveal that one of the directors drives a gas guzzler or that the heat from the data centre is being vented to the atmosphere, then the carbon neutral claim falls apart and the company risks ridicule.

The best option is transparency. To show what steps are being taken to run a sustainable (financially and socially, as well as environmentally) business and not make any pretence that things are better than they are. Some IT companies – IBM, Sun, Hewlett Packard, Cisco and Fujitsu Siemens spring to mind immediately – seem to be very forthright in their claims and their explanations.

They still fly people around when necessary, but they’ll talk about how much travel has been cut. They still have to run high-powered data centres – even more so for those who offer hosted software services, but they’ll talk about how much they’ve slashed their energy bills through consolidation, virtualisation and other measures.

Of course, they would all like to sell more equipment, software and services and they will dangle the cost and environmental savings that are possible. But they are also well aware that new equipment brings its own environmental costs, including the disposal of old equipment. Honest discussion around these issues will win vendors more customer loyalty than misleading claims based on dodgy premises.

Indeed, they may well find that their revenues rise for hosted services, consulting and software, even if an increasing awareness of sustainability among customers were to lead to a slowdown in hardware sales.