PR Dissertation Begins

Writing a dissertation first requires a question, some sort of academic line of enquiry which can be backed up with enough research, debate and modern relevance. The natural instinct of a writer is two-fold.

  1. Find a topic in line with the PR industry which could drive an effective rant
  2. Reflect on personal experiences in the industry which could lead to a recommendation to how things could change

Fortunately whilst on placement at Microsoft part of my mind was focused on the impending dissertation doom and so I have chosen my subject already. Having said that I am not going to reveal it publically (yet…) as I believe this dissertation to result in an original line of enquiry which will ultimately change the way professionals run their PR campaigns. Call it paranoia but this blog has a long reach and an intelligent audience!

Which reveals my desire for my dissertation – originality. Yes, existing research will be covered, examined but from the ashes I hope to conclude with an original idea. Of which will be backed up from my chosen research methods.

As a person with a clear interest in Philosophy it seemed only correct to follow a naturalistic line of enquiry.

  • Taking a hermeneutic approach which will result in the interpretation of data based on a logical progression to understand credibility
  • A reductionist approach to understand a subject as a sum of its parts
  • Processual research to gain understanding of behaviour of users which will then draw from the two other research methods.

As you can probably tell this dissertation will be evaluating communities made of consumers. Which is only the tip of the ice berg. Social networking will be proving a key subject area to tackle for many PR students around the world. It is changing every industry and must be fully researched, discovered and evaluated (the publishing industry is desperately looking for hope).

Apart from my basic dissertation plans everything else is still being constructed. Whilst I have a lot of research to hand I have not yet read through it all – neither does a dissertation draft exist (which will change in the next 3 weeks).

So there you go, fun dissertation times await and being the mad student I am this blog will still be updated continuously.

Directions, Devices & Desires

Once the fear of the Millennium Bug surpassed in 2000 a far more genuine threat surfaced in the form of IP (Internet Protocol) allocations. Every internet enabled device is allocated an IP address. IP version 4 provides approximately 4.3 billion addresses but with estimated internet enabled devices worldwide continuously growing (latest report indicates 16bn devices by 2020) due to an increase of 3G mobiles, households with broadband internet connection grew and wireless points became common. IP address allocations were running dry.

Every time a device needs to connect to the internet it will be given an IP address which acts as a device’s internet address. In simple terms the address is needed for the successful sending and receiving of data. When an internet device is switched off (or when a broadband connection is switched off) an IP address will return to a ‘pool’ of different addresses which will then be allocated to another device.

In the early 2000s it became clear that society had changed, we no longer switch off our devices – staying connected became a way of life. Thus IP addresses were running out, the allocation pool was running dry. A solution was needed. IP version 6 became a reality. In theory IP6 could provide 6.8 billion address (one for every human on the planet) but with the ‘Internet of Things’ continuously growing its longevity is being constantly reviewed and questioned.

With the gross expansion of technology just how does this affect the role of the Public Relations professional?

Directions
Communication channels have expanded giving variety, freedom and expression to consumers. The challenge every professional must learn is that social networks are not just consumers, instead users. Utilising an online communication channel should be seen as an honour, thus communication should be acted with nobility. Whilst relevant consumers will exist on online channels they require to be targeted by professionals with an understanding of the relevant publics involved behind a campaign.

The Conversation Prism offers an understanding of the scale of social networks open to online campaign. Just how many social networks are relevant? If a PR campaign is only involving four or less networks then digital PR is not being used to its full advantage.

Devices
Devices such as notebooks, tablet PCs and Smartphones are not singular channel devices, they can access whole range of online communication channels. Appealing to publics effectively will involve using the technologies available on these devices. Recently PR campaigns have used QR codes, applications and check-in data. Devices compliment communication channels and understanding how a consumer’s behaviour altered depending on their device will great enhance the effectiveness of a campaign. Make sure your online campaign is optimised to make the most of the devices being used. For instance is your website compliant with smartphone users?

In PR theory the range of technological devices are referred to as platforms. Traditionally a newspaper or book could be considered a platform but these tools in PR are only singularly channelled devices. Symmetrical communication allows for users to become involved with a campaign. Therefore it is necessary to understand the desires behind consumers to initiate higher levels of involvement, a metric which could be labelled engagement.

Desires
Achieving ROI (Return on Investment) should not be purely focused on the numbers. A high number of fans on Facebook are meaningless if subscriptions are not being backed up with engagement. Any B2C brand now must offer two-way communication offerings with the consumer. Over a period of time such action could drastically cause a re-allocation of advertising spend.

Just how does your PR campaign desire to be measured? This is the question every professional should now be asking. Look at your campaign objectives and review how each aspect could be measured online. A PR campaign without a plan for online measurement is doomed to fail.

How the UK Government should handle Data Transparency

July 2008 past UK PM, Gordon Brown, became embroiled in a debate concerning data sharing rules after a civil service department lost data which was claimed to be hidden under an “old pals” regulatory system. In response the UK Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas (succeeded by Christopher Graham in June 2009), released a report lobbying for increased transparency between Government, Private Companies and Councils. This is in line with Tony Blair’s speech to the UK e-Summit which outlined how transparency could create a new relationship between citizens and the state. A form of Institutional transparency which declares that the public have a right to know how their personal data is being utilised but with an element of control as outlined through privacy laws. Such an act by the state is intended to gain public trust but will require responsibility on institutions part to lower the risk of further lost data.

Far from a system of Government being viewed under a Machiavellian approach to data usage, it should open to the public. Yet this element of control is a deceit considering the growth of transparency which has been occurring for the last 15 years. Privacy rules only negotiate within matters of law and the government’s approach towards overt transparency is undermined by a radical transparency which is already occurring due to the growth of symmetrical communication online.

The launch of data.gov.uk in 2010 is designed to follow the principles set out by Richard Thomas allowing for non-personal factual data to be made available to the public. Eventually the UK Government will openly share this public data not only for central government but also across the public sector.

Yet transparency is not just concerned with the release of information but from the context it once originated from. Communication on the internet exists as a series of sharing (Re-Tweet, Google+ Share, Facebook Share, etc). Eventually context can be lost behind data due to a Web 2.0 form of Chinese whispers. Whilst the internet across multiple platforms may act as a middle man for communication it does not retain the sincerity or respect that may come from the connotations from where the source of the data appeared from.

Social Media is associated with the cult of the amateur, over simplifications can create inaccurate interpretations. So the government embracing institutional transparency is not only concerned with allowing public data to be freely available but to monitor the sources of where the data is being communicated from. Should a blog like mine have the authority to explain the data behind the Digital Economy Act or should that be left to BBC definitions?

Rather than privacy rules being put in place to act as a rule to control institutional transparency the Government should require guidance for how data should be interpreted once it reaches the intermediary sources (such as Journalists & Bloggers). Even this won’t refrain from misinterpretation but knowing the source context behind public data will assist to reserve data integrity.

 

mikewhite.co.uk: A Branding Overview

As a small side project as part of my Public Relations course at the University of Gloucestershire it is necessary to put together a short branding guide. For this task I decided to focus on how I have gone about branding this blog over the last 3 years.


If you have any questions please leave a comment below. If you would like to know how I have technically achieved any of this then I can cover this in future blog posts.

 

Listening to Duncan Bannatyne talk Business

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a business talk by Duncan Bannatyne at the Cheltenham Literature Festival with @Holpols. A stoic persona coupled with a reserved approach to the admiration shown in the crowd immediately set Duncan Bannatyne apart from other successful businessmen who I have heard before. By his own words he referred to himself as an ‘accidental millionaire’, it was clearly knowledge the Cheltenham Literature Festival crowd wanted and they would not be left disappointed.

Defining Duncan Bannatyne’s approach to business could be described as messy in a world which says academia comes first and success shall follow. He is described on his own website as Entrepreneur, Author, Philanthropist and Star of Dragons’ Den. His talk (structured in a Q&A format) coincided with his book “43 Mistakes Businesses Make” (Amazon Affiliate Link).

In the eyes of the world he is successful having thriving businesses which include Spas, Health Clubs and Hotels. At the beginning of his career this formula involved a bakery, ice-cream vans and care homes. With the advent of BBC’s Dragons’ Den it is not clear how many other businesses he is involved with but it would not surprise me if these were in triple figures.

His main message to prospective entrepreneurs is to simply start a business, there is no right or wrong time – every time is right. Make sure your business does not badly infiltrate your family life and that you always keep people at the forefront of your mind. Running a business is a human endeavour which is why companies should always be wary of outsourcing easily attainable services (such as cleaning). Respect and build upon the relationships you have.

Oddly this message neatly coincides with that PR cliché that ‘relationships come first’. It just goes to show that entertainment programmes such as BBC Apprentice really do show an unrealistic approach to becoming successful.

The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR? Umm… no.

When studying the theoretical ideals of any industry it is easy to get caught into a reasonable train of thought which is unjust to real-world case studies. This is the impression I received when reading the book by Laura Ries and Al Ries entitled, “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” (Amazon Affiliate Link). It is a book based on ideals and bias which, in my view, is poorly interpreted and instead shows the lack of understanding of the advertising industry by the authors.

“The fall of advertising” requires definitions in order for the argument to be clearly composed. We must ask:

  1. Which form of advertising has fallen (ie, failed)?
  2. What is meant by the word ‘fallen’?
  3. What is a company looking for from advertising?

I hope that this blog post assist to clearly serve my views on this matter.

 

The Different Forms of Advertising
Statistically online advertising is growing, this is also the form of advertising I have knowledge of due to my past role as a Multinational Account Manager at Microsoft. For this reason I will be focusing on online advertising rather than dipping into newspaper, magazines and television.

However I can say from the outset that newspaper and magazine advertising has failed in the sense of the complications of a poor economy and drop in physical media consumption. As circulation figures drop (especially in the case of physical magazines), it becomes increasingly difficult to place adverts in publications – demand increases and prices rise due to less issues being printed. Newspapers differ in this sense but can almost be disregarded entirely due to the shift to online news.

This is where online advertising steps in. Internet usage is constantly increasing and thus more ad placements are being made in order to monetise traffic websites and blogs are receiving. Top Network Advertisers such as Specific Media, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are seeing the industry grow each year – indeed Google primarily make their profits from advertising (90% of their revenue stream) through their Google AdWords and Google Adsense tools.

Online advertising is not just about focusing on awareness but can clearly track sales of products. This is what the industry call “performance advertising”. A client will approach with a varying amount of investment which publishers will convert into sales of their product. CPA (Cost Per Action) tracking is commonly used for this goal.

 

Has Advertising really Failed?
In terms of advertising causing sales then, if measured correctly, has not failed. Otherwise major publishers would lose clients. Online Advertising is an industry based on ROI, if a publisher fails to deliver to client’s objectives then they will lose business. The mere fact online advertising is growing indicates that organisations are seeing their ROI.

It is true to say though that we are all become less influenced through advertising. When was the last time you clicked on an online advert? Tools such as AdBlock make it easy for consumers to block potential advertising by publishers. Even those who choose not to block online adverts will rarely click on them, hence a rough industry standard of 0.1% average CTR (this depends on a website’s audience, the graphics and the product/service). For a publisher’s advert to be effective then a website will commonly need a high amount of daily traffic (counted as impressions).

To say that online advertising is an irritant is quickly becoming untrue. Context analysing and re-messaging are two advertising methods which are used to ensure that a user only receives relevant advertising content. This can occasionally be beneficial to their web searching efforts. Ad Exchanges take this approach one step further by taking all the data about an individual and making split second decisions about which advertising content to serve on a particular page – this is currently the present and future of online advertising.

So if we have established that online advertising provides ROI and generates revenue to publishers then how can it be concluded advertising has ‘failed’?

 

What is a company looking for from advertising?
This is the deal breaker. If a company is simply looking to raise awareness of a product or service then online Public Relations (Social Media) should be their focus. Using certain analytic tools (I have written about a number of them in this post) then you can track how your online campaign is going.

If a company is looking to generate sales then take social media efforts with a pinch of salt. I wish you could clearly track sales from social media but it is a tough business. Social media specialises (in my view) to create and join in with online engagement. You may promote products or services through this way but it is near impossible to track individual sales from certain accounts.

As a student I am more than happy if my view on this is proven incorrect, I have yet to witness a factual case study to indicate that this view I currently hold is incorrect. There is no doubt in the a company will discover a way to track individual sales from social media but for the moment receiving a good ROI is based upon what an organisation considers their objectives to be.

Conclusion
The authors, Laura Ries and Al Ries, should spent time looking at modern online advertising and recognise it is just as part of the marketing mix as Public Relations. No effective campaign is ever PR or Advertising – they are regularly two different bodies of one marketing campaign.

 

(Side Note: It would be foolish of me to not take into consideration the experiences of both Laura Ries and Al Ries. Both of which are intelligent and talented individuals with advertising and PR experience. Yet I somehow become confuddled at their view in this 2002 book. Perhaps their views have changed now that advertising has vastly evolved over the last 9 years.)

 

What is your opinion?

Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011): A Loss the World will Feel

Late Wednesday evening (UK) marked the end of an era as the news of Steve Jobs’ death was announced. The initial shock of this man’s early death at a mere 56 years of age was quickly superseded by the knowledge that he had been ill for some time. The news of his stepping down as Apple CEO last August was a clue of his condition but does not excuse the shock felt across the globe of his loss.

I have never met Steve Jobs, neither could I be described as a passionate Apple supporter but his death left a mark in my mind. Clearly less severe than the grief his family, friends and colleagues felt of his passing, nevertheless saddening. His impact upon the technology industry is irrefutable; his impact upon the world is remarkable. It was clear from the unveiling of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 that computing would never be the same.

Apple products have always been built for human beings. Stephen Fry regularly comments that Apple recognised people sit in front of computers for much of their working lives. This experience shouldn’t be grey, dull and overly technical but instead a pleasure. It must be partly due to this recognition that Apple don’t deal in sales but instead in infatuation.

From next week we are going to see the beginnings of the iPhone 4S hysteria as loyal Apple fans queue outside of Apple stores around the world hoping to be the first owners of the new iPhone. Apple creates technology which we not only use for its functions but also for the experience. iMacs, iPhones and iPads all become part of ourselves and have eradicated the idea of target audiences. Pleasure and business are one – Apple makes technology for humans.

Until recently other technology companies have recognised this. Microsoft released their Windows Phone 7 which is indistinguishable from Windows Phone 6.5 and below. Samsung tailors their devices to copy Apple, Android has made the effort to compete against the iPhone by being original. It is my entire belief that Steve Jobs was not only involved created beautiful products but was the much needed catalyst for the technology industry.

His last creation, the iPad, wasn’t revolutionary in terms of form factor. Tablet PCs have been around since the 80s. However the iPad was the first tablet computer which was a pleasure to use due to its in-depth design. It sparked the tablet PC wars after much cynicism in the industry whether the tablet PC was ever going to become mainstream.

To think that this man passed away at the tender age of 56 and was clearly still in his creative prime. Whilst his death is a personal tragedy, it is also a technological tragedy as many creations and visions have too gone to the grave. One hopes Apple can still maintain its unique stance in the industry but there is no doubt his passing will impact the company.

I could continue on writing about Steve Jobs, praising his efforts at Apple, Pixar and NeXT but many better tributes and obituaries have already been made to cover these incredible times in his career.

So today I am going to finish this blog post in the understanding the world has not only lost a pioneering man but also a catalyst whom pushed the world to new technological heights. The world will feel his loss

iPhone 4S… that’s it?

For over a year various iPhone 5 rumours have circled the globe and this evening (UK time) I finally thought the iPhone 5 would be announced, at least a re-designed iPhone 4S. Instead relatively minor adjustments were made; notably (barely) an 8MP camera, HD resolution video recording and a dual-core A5 processor. Statistically this still places the iPhone 4S behind some competitor devices.

From reports so far it seems clear the disappointment was felt amongst journalists in the room of the press conference. Usually iPhone announcements are expected in September but the delay had built a hype which was ultimately not worthy of the end product.

7.34pm: Price: 16, 32, 64 … “it’s not the best phones in our lineup” … hope rises … “we also have the other phones, the iPhone 4 and 3GS.” GAAAH.” – Charles Arthur & Josh Halliday (Guardian)

The way Apple primarily manages its Public Relations is through a series of strategic leaks to the media. Where do you think the rumours come from? As Mashable have commented, in the past Apple have made sure to manage expectations through leaks to ensure hype doesn’t kill a device’s launch. Such PR move was clearly not made ahead of today’s conference.

The hype was killed from the outset. The conference began with a rather tedious (occasionally questionable) list of statistics, updates of new shops and their new iCloud service and concluded with no announcement of an iPhone 5. Ultimately this resulted in a drop of Apple shares by more of 4.25%.

In fact the two biggest pieces of news from today’s press conference was the iPhone 3GS will be free on contract and the iPhone 4 will significantly drop in price. This alone may provide affordable options for many less fortunate to replace their Android devices for older Apple technology.

Yes, the iPhone 4S is an improvement but I personally can’t help but wonder what Apple has been doing for the last year and ½. Trying to justify the cost of the iPhone 4S against competitors will be a tricky call, particularly as I am due an upgrade this month.

Ultimately I am left with this sense of “That’s it?”.

For those interested Rory Cellan-Jones has posted a video of the iPhone 4S. Try to spot the difference.