Fundamental purpose

“You hang on to the idea of who you are as a company, and you focus not on what you do but on what you could do. By being really clear about what you stand for and why you exist, you can see what you could do with a much more open mind. You enhance your ability to adapt to change.”
(Collins 1997)

True that.

Next move in the social business game?

Last night I attended a panel event on the use of social tools in the workplace organised by head of digital and social for Fishburn Hegdes (@fishburnhedges) (and fellow Gooner) Chris Reed (@chris_reed) . The panel consisted of Andrew Grill (@andrewGrill) partner at IBM Interactive and renowned social business thought-leader, Miguel Garcia (@MiguelAngelo) Customer Success Manager for Yammer in London, Ben Matthews (@Benmatthe) Head of strategic communications for eBay in Europe) and Jacobina Plummer (@jacobinaplummer) Global Change & Communications Manager, Agile Working for Unilever.

With the debate on the terminology around what social business is and if it means anything at all to the all important C-Suite, it was really interesting getting the views, real use cases and personal anecdotes of the panel session.

Key takeaways for me:

  • In a global organisation with thousands of staff, the use of an internal social network is essentially a ‘can’t live without’ particularly in the modern age of distributed work forces
  • The use (or in some cases misuse) of social tools with any organisation relies on those at the very top setting an example
  • What qualifies as success differs from organisation to organisation as expectations are very different (obvious but worth stressing)
  • Social networks within the firewall should not replace the role of line managers to instilling a sense of purpose for employees but instead serve to augment the organisational culture.
  • Agencies and consultancies (thankfully) have a role to play in helping organisations implement best in class practices but need to be able to demonstrate they can ‘walk the walk’ and not just ‘talk the talk’

As organisations  continually look to transform themselves in digital age, I suspect we will see these discussions ramp up further on this side of the pond over the next 2 to 3 years. Interesting times as they say.

Resetting the ‘PR’ button?

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad sign but the conversation on the future of the PR industry seems to have kicked up a notch in the last few months. The PRCA in collaboration with Ketchum have been leading the debate/discussion on this.

This is a debate that’s always been around but appears to have more people soul searching than I can remember.

As the whole ‘social media thing’ seems to be entering into the trough of disillusionment, PR firms and practitioners are starting to wonder what value they truly offer clients and organisations. It appears the PR industry is going through a trough of disillusionment.

Something I haven’t seen by way of debate from the PRCA though (which given what the acronym stands for, we should) is the notion of ‘consultancy’ versus ‘agency’ thinking. This is an area I’ve been fascinated with for a while now in particular as the consultancy industry as we know is going through a shake up of its own.

For too long those working in PR have adopted an agency mentality – we’ll do what you want for a retained fee and provide you with the results on a regular basis. The main reason you hire us is because you probably don’t have the time or resource to do it yourself. 

PR, sadly, in most circles has become synonymous with media coverage and relationship building with stakeholders of varying degrees. Agencies are relied upon to ‘oil the wheels of this process’. There are obviously exceptions but in the main this is how things play out. And it works. In fact, it still works for many.

Then however there’s the consulting approach. This is more about businesses having a problem they don’t know how to solve. In most cases it’s not about throwing bodies at a problem. An organisation has already thought through a problem and are stumped. So they’ll call in consultants to help work through how to solve this. Typically this function fell to management consultants who employed very smart people to come up with solutions to specific problems. Again that works. And still works for many.

But the landscape of online behaviour is changing things. Running businesses where the expectations of customers, potential customers, employees, shareholders and competitors are changing by the minute means for those in PR specific functions, areas that might have required an ‘agency’ offering means they now need a ‘consultancy’ solution.

It’s only a subtle difference. But a difference none the less. Setting the expectation and delivering on it are real business issues now because the expectation being set externally by industry-agonistic leaders who’s work is viewed in public forums.

In essence, the communications function is now inadvertently more strategic and thought through than ever before. Governments and public bodies have long realised this. Social networking software has pretty much forced businesses to catch up.

So what does that mean for the the PR industry?

In my view, if you’re in the strategic space you need to follow the consulting methodology. In all likelihood this means project work, developing analytically derived insights,  outcomes based results and pretty much staking your reputation on your recommendations.

As ever, all views and counter points welcome.

My personal API

Another day and another cold call from a automated service telling me about a PPI claim that I might have. I realise that companies all have to make money and trim costs wherever they can. Having ACTUAL people cold call only to be told no is an expensive business.

This post isn’t actually about that. I don’t mind people calling me. Well… I do when it’s inconvenient but if they catch me at the right time I’m happy to have a chat (and then say no).

This post is more about defining the terms of condition through which I’ll be marketed to. Hell having worked in PR for years, I’ve done the ‘media pitch’ only to catch journalists at an inopportune time thereby pissing them off. I know what it’s like being on the other side.

For those active in social media marketing will know, we talk a lot about the customer journey and optimise the customer touchpoints (phrases I hate). But as a customer, I feel that I should take responsibility for telling those that want to sell me something the terms of conditions by which to do so. A kind of personal API if you will

So with that in mind, here’s a typical online journey for me complete with the appropriate touchpoints (another word I hate).

Wake up (Between 6am and 7am)

  • Check Twitter for Arsenal news, whoever I spoke to last night, any interesting trends
  • Check Flipboard and Feedly for Sports news and other feeds on marketing, business, and technology news
  • Check Timehop
  • Possibly check Facebook

Bath time (7am ish)

  • Listen to Talksport (unless it’s been a bad day for Arsenal then it’s Radio 4 or LBC)
  • Watch a bit of BBC Breakfast following by Peppa Pig and or Noddy/Postman Pat/Thomas the tank engine (I have 2yr old in case anyone is wondering)

Journey into work (8am to 9am)

  • Listen to Talksport (unless a bad day for Arsenal then see above)
  • Listen to podcast by Mitch Joel /HBR/Jay Baer

Arrive at work (9am ish)

  • Check Twitter,
  • Check LinkedIn on any contacts I’m meeting or prospecting
  • Feedly for industry related topics

Lunch at desk (bad I know) (1pm ish)

  • Read latest Kindle book

Leave work (6pm ish)

  • Listen to Talksport (chances are I’ve gotten over the bad Arsenal news)
  • Listen to podcast
  • Read book (kindle)
  • Write blog post via WordPress mobile (as I’m doing now)

Get home (7pm ish)

  • Watch Peppa Pig (urgh)

Evening chill out time (ie once daughter finally sleeps) (9pm ish)

  • Watch TV (Comedy, drama or sport)

Bedtime (11pm ish)

  • Check Feedly/Flipboard
  • Check Facebook

That’s roughly it. If you’re a marketer and think you can find an gap to ‘interlock’ with me, feel free.


Since writing this post I’ve discovered a great tool built by Visual DNA  that allows you take simple personality test that ascertains what brands you’ll likely be receptive to (amongst other things).

Mine is scarily accurate….

Who is EbA


Thoughts on Sun+ paywall and brands becoming media companies

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Sun+ blogger event held at News UK offices yesterday. The event was hosted by News UK CEO Mark Darcey and we were given a glimpse into the Sun+ paywall, what it offers readers, what it means for the Sun (print, desktop and tablet) and, more interestingly for me, the Goals app.

For a more detailed wrap up of the media implications of the paywall, there are some good analysis here and here.

For me there were a couple of takeaways (amongst the actually takeaways of Wayne Rooney’s biography, a notebook and a quirky USB thingy).

Firstly, it’s clear the popular phenomena ‘digital transformation’ is weaving it’s way through the media industry. When the Times launched it’s paywall back in 2010, it was met with much scepticism. The world has moved on dramatically since then. We all have tablets now. Wi-fi is pretty much wherever we need it. And more recently 4G means a much better browsing  experience. We’re much less ‘suspicious’ about paying for things online.

Against this backdrop, the Sun+ team is unlikely to face the kind of uproar the Times team did (Also being part of the same means they won’t have to go far to learn their lessons.) Much of that uproar was around would people be prepared to pay for news they could get for free and what impact it would have on circulation.

While there is certainly still some debate on the ‘paying for news’ aspect, Mike Darcey (News UK CEO) made a very interesting point on the circulation discussion. Yes there will be a drop off in figures. But why is that a bad thing? In the corporate world, we constantly tell brands it’s not about the number of ‘likes’ but the quality of fans. And that’s the point many media companies are coming round to. Who cares about a 32 million uniques if the majority of them only read one article occasionally and leave? (And I’m actually one of those).

My second takeaway is related to that. Brands and companies are very keen to become media companies so it’s very interesting to see how media companies are innovating themselves. Newspapers have for years prided themselves on really knowing and understanding their audiences. What makes them tick, what makes them angry, what makes them buy more papers. of course, delivering relevant content is a key component but for me, getting under the skin of your audience is really what it means for a brand to become like a media company. The other aspect media companies have is a strong sense of who they are and who they are not. Far too often, companies don’t really know what they stand for and what they don’t stand for. This really needs to change if brands are to adopt the media company model.

All in all it will be very interesting to see how the Sun+ move goes. The team have lots of ideas about how to evolve the offering over time. Now I must check out their Goals app to see if Arsenal have signed anyone….

Show me the data, SHOW ME THE DATA!!

Did anyone watch the Don Cheadle program House of Lies? I know it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I found the cat and mouse, client/consultant relationship fascinating.

Now I know shows like that have a certain amount of embellishing to do and tend to be exaggerated caricatures of the real thing however there was a term that stood out for me  in episode 1 – the data dump.

As described, it is the process by which consultants pour through their clients business information to really uncover the flaws (or in their case ‘opportunities’).

It made me wonder of how agencies go into this level of depth when taking a client on? Of course a client will usually have a brief which should outline in details what they want the agency to do. But if an agency partner were to ask to see all the data about about a company before deciding on what campaigns to run it takes the relationship to a whole new level. Simply put, it kind of  saying, show me your data first before I can tell you what campaign I can run for you and the impact it will have.

Personally I don’t think we are far from this scenario. I’m finding myself dealing with more and more organisations who are waking up to just how much data and information they have.

I’m currently reading a book called Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz. Amongst other areas, the book talks about finding startups concentrating on the one metric that matters (OMTM) and how as a startup you need to know what this is in order to survive but also not to go crazy about the multitude of other metrics you are faced with.  Although it’s written for startups, I highly recommend it for anyone involved in any time of data analysis (so basically anyone in comms right?). In a world where we have a tsunami of data to work though, it provides a refreshing approach to make sense of what it all means. For comms professionals, it provides a framework through which to tell the right story in order to achieve the right result and show (in a quantified manner) how that result has hit home.

Now if I can just find someone to shout “SHOW ME THE DATA” at Jerry Macguire style….

Sorting out your reality problem – the crux of social business

Every now and again you come across a piece of writing that hits the nail squarely on the head. An article that resonates so strongly with you that you find yourself nodding furiously in agreement as you read it.

This is one such article. Alistair Campbell who most will know from New Labour has written a brilliant piece on why the world of PR is changing – It’s a must read piece for anyone working in the practice of communications.

There are a couple of key points that stand out for me but the one that really struck a chord was this:

I get calls from people out of the blue – again the new world. I am on Facebook, Twitter and people can email me direct on my website. Helps me cut out middle men and agents and get better deals for what I do. Makes people feel you are accessible – which I am. But when a government or company or a big brand comes on, I always assume two things – they have a problem, and they think it is about the communications. They think they need a spin doctor.

So I go and see them and the first thing I do is say who are your key people, and I ask to see them too, at the same time. And I get out some plain white postcards.

And on each one is written the words ‘The main objective of our organization is…’ and I ask them to end that sentence. Then I ask them to turn over the postcard, and it says ‘The strategy to meet our objective is…’ and I ask them to fill that out too. Then I gather them in. And nine times out of 10, I gather in a stack of different objectives, strategies which are tactics, or strategies which are objectives, and I say to them… you don’t have a spin problem, you have a reality problem. And I say if you are not aligned on strategy, you the key people running the show, why should the public be expected to know and hear what you are trying to say or sell to them, and why should the media not take every chance it can get to make your life more difficult, pore over your errors, ignore your successes?

So good public affairs is not about spin; it is about strategy, and reputation.

Spot on.

However, how does a PR manager or agency partner even begin to address this? As Campbell rightly points out the role of communications within many organisations is treated as a luxury. Very few in the industry are able to command the level of trust and respect required to get senior executives to ‘align on strategy’. I daresay you need to be an old, white man with grey hair which knocks out a lot of those currently working in the profession.

There are ways and means though. And I believe this is where the notion of social business can really come into it’s own (and by social business I mean something akin to this definition).

One of the best ways of helping a company sort out its reality problem is to objectively show it what its community thinks of it (and by that I don’t mean Facebook fans. I mean customers, employees, partners, suppliers, shareholders, competitors and pretty much anyone with someone to gain or lose by that company).

Knowing what your stakeholders think of you has always been good business. The beauty of the technological world we live in means we now have the tools to cost effectively capture that intelligence and then analyse it and work it into a strategic approach (and no I’m not just talking about social listening. I mean in-depth community analysis both inside and outside an organisation).

Taking this one step further, those in PR/comms advisory roles should add running strategic workshops to their offerings as well as tactical creative implementations (I highly recommend this book called Gamestorming as a good place to start). Then they need to start speaking the language of business (ie how can I help you make money or how can I help you save money).

I’ve long believed the world of PR goes further than press, media and spin. It’s good to read the alleged king of spin echo that sentiment.

Thoughts on helping agencies help clients

Following on from my last post on ‘what’s really behind the social brief‘ I thought it might be a good idea to expand on some practical steps to elevate the problem that many agencies face when it appears their clients don’t ‘get it’.

Training and education seem the obvious first step to start. However let me break down the notion of ‘training’ in terms of what people expect it to be and what it best delivers.

One of the best ‘training’ session I’ve ever been involved in was conducted by my good friend and ex-colleague Hastie Aftkhami (who is global head of training at Social@Ogilvy). I put the inverted commas around the word training because if fact it didn’t fell like training at all. It was a session on training trainers and it centred on how training session should be set out. The crux of the session was that training isn’t so much about imparting wisdom as opening people’s minds to new behaviours and giving them frameworks to adapt seamlessly to those behaviours.

The common misconception people have around training typically aligns around the expectation that they will be told what to do for a particular scenario. For instance, a new department has been given a new piece of software to use and the team who designed the software run a ‘training session’ on the features of using that software. All very well and good you might say, but the problem with many of these types of training is more often than not, the facilitators completely fail to appreciate the environment in which they product will be used. To borrow from another psychological reference, they lack the empathy and emotional intelligence to understand how they users will use they products in anger (ie on a day-to-day basis when the pressure is on).

When it comes to running social media led campaigns for clients, agencies can fall into this trap. Particularly when the client isn’t really sure what it is they want. Most agencies will act dumb and just churn out something for the client based on some loose notion of what they ‘think’ they want.

The smart agencies will attempt to educate the client on what they should be doing often with varying degrees of success and then resort to churning out something for the client based on some loose notion of what they think they want.

The really smart agencies go the extra mile to open a clients mind around the new behaviours a social media led campaign should bring about and set out a vision of what it will deliver. And naturally this will map back to an underlying business objective the client has. That could be helping them towards increasing a market share, reducing an operating cost or perhaps even increasing sales or revenue!

It starts however with really getting to know what your clients business is all about and then helping them visualise what the future will look like with your help. It certainly isn’t easy. But then if it was, everyone would be doing it right.

Of course, I’m always open to a different point of view.

What is really behind the ‘social’ campaign brief?

The industry isn’t short of smart people. We constantly hear how to ‘do social media’ right and how people are ‘doing it wrong’. For example, we now all know likes don’t mean sales and that content is the bed rock of campaigns. Why is it then that many campaign wrap ups still heavily feature metrics such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and so much content produced is really bad (i.e. irrelevant and poorly distributed?).

Here’s my hypothesis:

Getting people aligned around an idea is not easy. Getting consensus on something you know to be right is one of the toughest jobs of a leader. And it’s even harder if you aren’t the boss and are trying to get the boss to do what you know to be right.

This is a scenario that I’m sure happens a LOT in the agency world.

Client: We need to do something social. Can you come up with a few ideas for us?

Agency: Can you give us some more details on what the parameters should be?

Client: Not really. Our Board is keen to do something to increase our brand awareness with social. It would be great if you could come up with a few ideas that could wow them?

Agency: Right. What kind of budget are you looking at?

Client: We’re not too sure. Can you give us a range of options on what’s possible?

Agency: Yes we can do that. However it would be helpful if you could give us some ballpark figure. Also what would you say success looks like?

Client: Well that’s difficult to say. We’re aiming to increase brand awareness so anything that delivers that would be considered a success. Oh, and anything that the board really like.

Now if you’ve worked in an agency setting, I’m pretty positive you’ve been involved in a scenario such as this. Here’s my take on what’s at play in these scenarios.

From the client standpoint – they probably work within a hierarchical organisation where commands come down from the board/senior management team. These commands are rarely questioned and those in the chain of command live in constant fear of getting results that are often judged on the whim of a strong personality or a group of people with different expectations of what success looks like.

From the agency perspective – as much as they try to understand what the client really wants or what lies behind the clients requests, there comes a time when they just think, ‘hey we need the revenue. Let’s just go along with what the client says and give them a generic campaign’.

While this scenario might fill some with despair, the reality is many in these situations can only deal with the scenario they are in. The client is unlikely to tell their board that they don’t get social so shouldn’t be involved in it and the agency is unlikely to walk away from the potential revenue. Hence we often arrive at campaigns that aren’t rooted in solving any real problem. Or put in ‘wanky’ business speak, moved the needle in any meaningful way.

I’ve probably oversimplified the situation, but in my view unless much more attention is paid to understanding the organisation culture, motivations and structure of individuals both on client and agency side, we’ll constantly go round in the endless (and tiresome circle) of clients getting disappointed with so-called social media results (whatever that means) and agencies coming up with campaigns to satisfy these requests but never properly scratching the itch. By the way, if you’re interested in understanding this more, I’d strongly recommend reading Attenzi – a social business story by Philip Sheldrake.

Disagree? As ever, I’m happy to be told or proved otherwise.

Disruption, disruption, disruption

For those of us that work in digital communications, it can be easy to forget there’s a whole world out there that are welded to an historical/traditional mindset and approach.

In itself that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just because there are newer ways of doing things, doesn’t mean you have to throw out the baby with the bath water (so to speak)

Except there are instances when it’s clear an overhaul is needed.

Which brings me to my experience last with Nissan. Firstly I just want to say I don’t have an issue with Nissan or the person who was in charge of their twitter handle who I was sparring with. (Or even the leasing company ALD who still haven’t responded).

It’s more to do with the industry as a whole. I’ll explain.

I leased a brand new car about 18 months ago. It was a Nissan Qashqai (I’ve been teased about its Dad-status but that’s besides the point)

Haven’t not owned a car for 10 years prior to that, the responsibilities that come with owning a car (such as services it) had passed me by. Hell I was just excited to have a new toy.

18 months later I realise I should take the car in for a service. The service attendant at the Nissan Garage in Leyton informs me I’ve missed the first year service.

The conversation went as follows:

Nissan service attendant: “You realise you were meant to have serviced the car last year. Did you just forget?”

Me: “Well not really. I never got a reminder telling me it was due. In fact other than being sent a tax disc 6 months ago, I haven’t had any communication for Nissan or anyone.”

Nissan service attendant: “That’s pretty bad. I’d have thought someone would have got in touch with you somewhere down the line.”

So with that, I went through the formalities of booking the car in and as one who works in digital Comms, sent a tweet to Nissan saying, it’s not on that I haven’t heard from then since I brought the car 18 months ago.

The following exchange ensued:

  1. So @NissanUK I’ve haven’t had word from you since I leased my car and now I have to pay extra for an M2 service. Not happy
  2. @eba Hi Eb – sorry, don’t understand the context. Do you lease direct from us, from one of our dealers or via a lease agent? ^DP
  3. @NissanUK It was via a lease agent ALD automotive. Not heard a word from them since I leased in 2011 apart from to replace the tax ->
  4. @NissanUK Didn’t get a service reminder so missed 1yr service. After sales service has been non existent
  5. @eba Understood – isn’t your beef with ALD then and not us? We dont set the terms of a third party lease. ^DP
  6. @NissanUK Yes it is. But I lease a Nissan Qashqai not an ALD Qashqai. Plus I doubt they are on twitter
  7. @eba Then to be frank your being unfair complaining to us about your lease terms – anyway, their twitter handle is – @ALDAutomotiveUK ^DP
  8. @NissanUK Wow your tone is unbelievable. Considering it’s YOUR brand surely some recognition that as a customer I’m not happy is due
  9. @eba Come on Eb, your an experienced tweeter, you know its not cricket to complain indiscriminately – if I could help I could, I promise 1/2
  10. 2/2 but your issue is with ALD and the lease contract you have with them, not us or the car we lovingly built for you by hand :-) ^DP
  11. @NissanUK I don’t complain indiscriminately. But to tell me I’m being unfair when I’ve had a poor service from your BRAND is shocking
  12. @eba Hi Eb – this is turning a bit silly – your experience is with the ALD brand while driving a Nissan one. I am trying to help. ^DP
  13. @NissanUK Yes it is. What you should have done it give me ALD’s twitter and then said you’ll have a word with them about aftersales…
  14. @NissanUK Not say I’m being unfair complaining to you (again I add I’m tied to your BRAND) not ALD

Now as someone who as worked with car brands I understand the complexities of the supply chain. However, in the day and age we live in surely the guardians and owners of the brand have the responsibility to ensure that partners aren’t unduly treating their customers and ultimately potential advocates. (Ok I’m being a bit pedantic. At the end of the day all that happened was that I didn’t get a reminder. It’s not the end of the world).

My point is brands spend lots of money trying to connect with customers and influence them to buy into their product or services. But when someone does the systems behind the scenes more often than not, don’t live up to what is being portrayed.

After my twitter exchange with the guy he actually called me up and we had a good chat about how to avoid situations like this for other customers. I appreciate where he is coming from and also the challenges of trying to connect a company that has systems that aren’t designed for the digital age.

It boiled down to the fact that despite being a Nissan advocate, Nissan’s social media team have no way of knowing who I am or linking my online public persona to their customer data.

Nissan are certainly not unique. This story sums up this issue facing many organisations. While their is a lot of effort putting on a public face, things aren’t necessarily working that well behind the scenes.

And this is why a lot of social media efforts are viewed sceptically by the public. Many lack authenticity. And why? Because they aren’t a true representation of the company culture.

Even though social business is becoming another buzzword that’s being banded around, for me this is a real live example of the disruptive power social technologies and thinking will have on many industries.

FYI – I actually really like my Qashqai.