What makes PR (and PR people) different? I think it’s one core thing. We create content, we tell stories. In that way we are unique among all of the marketing disciplines. We are not about taglines. We deliver a strong narrative arc. And, after we create these stories, we sell them to our audiences through a variety of channels, building credibility for our storytellers (our clients and spokespersons) along the way.
Telling a good story is hard. To create a story that moves an audience requires a deep understanding of a company’s content; a strong, intuitive sense of who the audiences are and what they care about; and an ability to shape a compelling narrative that bridges these two core elements. Creating a narrative arc with all of those components is what PR people do every day.
Telling a good story builds an audience. As the barriers between paid, earned and owned media disintegrate, so are the barriers between professionally produced news and entertainment and content produced by organizations. Our audiences care less and less about where the content comes from – they just want interesting, useful, accessible information. Packaged in a compelling narrative.
Communications professionals are uniquely suited to build and distill these narratives and to sell it. The best PR people intuitively define and help an organization consistently speak in a voice that will be warmly received. As PR people our currency is an ability to build both credibility and strong connections with audiences. We also evangelize both the corporate narrative and voice within an organization, constantly driving for consistency from CEO to sales rep in Kuala Lumpur.
We don’t just tell our story through the media. We use any and every channel we can get our hands on – digital, social, live events, traditional media – to reach any and every audience – customers, investors, partners, employees, legislators.
Communications can and should be the glue that holds every organization’s narrative and outreach together.
I am old enough to remember Scott McNealy’s famous and controversial press conference zinger when he was asked about online tracking, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” That was 1999. Mayhem ensued after Scott’s astringent, quotable, and prescient remark.
Scott was the classic early adopter – he understands how technology works, his eyes are wide open, and he understood the privacy trade offs inherent in a connected world.
Late adopters – that great mass of people who decide to adopt a technology after it crosses the famous chasm, are another thing entirely. Late adopters bring massive uptake and profits, but late adopters feel a lot differently about technology, their privacy, and control of their online identities than early adopters do. All of that means so much more today in our highly mobile world, which wasn’t even a factor in 1999! Late adopters want all of the benefits of mobile citizenship without losing their privacy or control of their online identities.
Teaching our organizations to embrace communicating successfully to late adopters is the responsibility of all of us in tech PR.
We’ve seen Google and Facebook in the blocks for misunderstanding the scope and depth of feeling that their product and policy decisions about privacy would create. Now we’re seeing mobile app providers in the same pickle. Whenever a government agency gets involved, that’s a clear sign that the industry did not do a good enough job of managing and communicating on its own.
I’d wager there’s hardly a person working in the technology industry today who doesn’t have whole sections of Crossing the Chasm memorized. The leap from early to late adoption is well documented, but the communications responsibilities that late adoption brings with it are not.
Late adoption is as challenging and chaotic for communicators as early adoption is. In the beginning you’re struggling to generate interest in and explain your wonderful new thing and why anyone should care. But when late adoption arrives with its massive scale and demand you never know from day to day or from hour to hour what new issue from what corner of the world is going to rise up to bite you. You never know which constituency group is going to agitate, or be created just to oppose you. You never know which government entity in which country will get involved. Massive scale and demand magnifies everything. A tiny issue that might have affected 2,000 early adopters is an entirely different thing when we’re talking about millions of users, especially if they are your kids. In a massively scaled late adopter world, no one wants to be told to “get over it.”
Staying ahead of the issues that late adopters generate is a gargantuan communications challenge. As a communicator you need to be able to influence your CEO, CTO, General Counsel and leadership in different markets around the world to be prepared to engage with developer communities, government agencies, NGOs, financial markets, and any stakeholder who may appear with a concern and a Twitter account.
As the side effects of late adoption come to noisy fruition, this is the time for tech communicators to deliver assertive, forthright counsel. Being a strong voice in shaping how technology companies operate in the new world is our job.
When I meet in-house communicators for technology companies and ask what keeps them awake at night, many have said a key pressure is how they show the business they are helping that they are reaching strategic business goals. Often that means ‘how can I show that I know the IT decision maker and that what I do reaches, and influences him or her?’
So for some time now, I have wanted to get some evidence on this subject - a holy grail to many of us who work in technology PR.
Today, I am very proud to be in London launching research alongside PSB that looks 'into the mind of the CIO' to assess their personal engagement with technology products and brands, how they regard their role, the attitudes of those around them to it, and how they want their role to develop. Perhaps more importantly for communications professionals, our study investigates how CIOs in France, UK, Italy and Germany make decisions when looking to select IT partners. It focuses on the best means to reach and influence him or her in IT decision making. It asks what do they read or watch to get information and is it actually influential? How far, if at all, do they trust technology vendors? And is social media an important way to reach IT decision makers?
So what did we find? As with all research, some of our findings endorsed what we knew, some things surprised us.
We looked at the issue of trust, and found that technology companies are highly trusted by CIOs with over half claiming to trust vendors a lot. This will be encouraging/surprising news for many in-house communicators who sometimes feel assailed by cynicism from the external world. Perhaps reflecting this finding, 34 percent cite corporate websites as very influential in their purchasing decisions, second only to the 39 percent citing trade press as very influential. This suggests technology communicators need to ensure they play a more major role in how the website is used to reach the CIO.
We then looked at influential factors in any technology purchase. Quality of products was cited by an average of 60 percent, and in these tough economic times, it seems natural to go back to basics. Even so, it is interesting to note that IT decision makers are far less influenced by ‘softer’ factors such as corporate social responsibility, leadership of the vendor company, or its financial performance.
However, the second most important factor was cited as a technology vendor’s brand or reputation. The insight that reputation is a key decision driver suggests that technology communicators need to really focus on what drives their own reputation and builds the brand. They need to invest in integrated communications campaigns and truly get across what the purpose, mission, values and differentiators of their business are. They need to ensure everyone in the business tells that story on every platform. This will be a key challenge that technology communicators need to rise to, and lead from the front.
Clearly reputation is made up of all kinds of attributes but in order to probe further, the study asked IT decision-makers what they thought the key ingredients of market leadership were for technology vendors because we felt this would give us an insight into what should be the base elements of any reputation-building campaign in the technology arena. Overwhelmingly, respondents said: Innovation. This suggests that if you want to build reputation enhancing programs that will actually resonate with IT decision makers, they should focus on innovation as a key theme.
When I discussed the findings with the editor of a major IT newspaper in the UK, he was surprised by the emphasis placed on quality of product, that IT firms are trusted, that websites are seen as influential. According to him, IT firms use too much jargon. They hype their products. There is too much complexity, not enough focus on business outcomes, and that suppliers should focus more on understanding their business needs. I am not sure our stances are too contradictory.
Our respondents are saying they want to hear about value brought to the business, breakthrough innovation that feeds business success and quality of products. They believe these are the cornerstones of reputation. If these factors are communicated clearly using all channels of communication, then perhaps IT decision makers will get what they need from technology vendors.
Recently, we had a guest speaker come into our offices to discuss the contagiously positive outcomes of engaging in what he has deemed an “Information Diet.” Clay Johnson argues that, similar to food consumption, we need to regulate our information consumption in order to live happy, healthy lives. In a time when information is as accessible as a double bacon cheeseburger and curly fries, we naturally gravitate to the “greasy stuff.” We want to hear about the latest celebrity gossip, who cheated on who, as well as the latest travesties. We have an overabundance of information ripe for our consumption. According to Clay, the modern human spends “11 out of every 24 hours in a constant state of consumption. We have become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.” Just as junk food can lead to obesity, junk information can lead to a negative impact on our attention and general intelligence. The answer is fairly simple, as Clay points out, we need to become more conscious consumers of information and be more selective of what we read and take in on a daily basis.
This also has implications to the ever-evolving role of communication professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the Department of Labor, the number of news analysts, correspondents and reporters in the US started at 69,300 in 2008 and is expected to decline by 4% by 2018. On the contrary, in 2008 there were 275,200 PR professionals in the US and that number is expected to increase by 25% by 2018. That means by 2018, for every ONE journalist, there will be FIVE PR people. If you consider this statistic, you’ll also understand the role of PR professionals and journalists is changing. More and more, journalists will take a press release, a pitch or statistics from a PR practitioner and turn it into a story with less, if any, fact checking or additional research. This is simply because there are not enough journalists to cover the massive amounts of news and information being produced every day. What does all this mean? At Burson-Marsteller, one of the core elements we have long prided ourselves on is the fact that we are “evidence-based.” This means that when we craft a story or recommend a strategy, it is based on thoughtful analysis and research, not just what sells. In the end, this type of approach to communication leads to greater quality news reporting and better relationships with news reporters who trust in the information we provide them with. In the age of the information and data explosion, it is our job as consumers to be thoughtful about the information we consume. As PR professionals, it is also important to consider every pitch, every press release and every tweet we release into the information stratosphere. We must have a greater understanding of the effect our actions have on ourselves and the health of society as a whole.
Our recent Global Brand Index showed technology companies in a very good light, with the strongest reputation as a sector, according to interviews with 40,000 consumers in 6 countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sectors such as oil and gas and banking scored less well. And there are a few ways I guess we can look at this.
Lisa Poulson, our global Tech Practice Leader has just blogged about innovation being the new CSR. Certainly, the halo effect of innovation has highly impacted the reputational impact not just of tech firms but also companies like Ford, who has recently focused a lot of its communications on innovation. However, this should not mean that technology companies should rest on their innovation laurels and believe that innovation alone will ensure their reputations will remain ascendant. For quite some time, many industries have had to take corporate responsibility reporting and communications more seriously than technology companies, simply because the potential for damaging impact on society, the environment and on the economy has perhaps been graver, and scrutiny from NGOs, politicians, media and consumers has never been more intense.
However, as even the most innovative of innovative tech firms has found, being a creator of desirable consumer technology products does not entirely protect you from the court of public opinion. I believe that ALL technology businesses need to cast a critical eye over the realities behind their sustainability reports, and work hard to ensure that the substance behind the report and the purpose behind the company is actively communicated at all times. Technology companies are usually superb at communications around their products. But we live in ever more transparent times, and as technology becomes more central to our everyday lives, there will be more, not less scrutiny of corporate behavior in this sector, and an increased need for more corporate communications rather than product PR. To go back to our Brand Index, while some sectors can learn from technology on how to position themselves as innovators to enhance reputation, perhaps technology communicators can also learn from some of the more ‘issues-rich’ sectors on managing reputation in a complex, multi-stakeholder world, how to act as a quasi ‘moral compass’ for the business, and how to protect the brand against assault from many different angles.
Today an announcement went out naming me as Burson-Marsteller’s US Technology Practice Chair. In the press release, I said I was “honored” to take on this role – I chose that word carefully (and not just because all of my friends would mock me if I used the word “excited” in my quote). Anyone who knows me knows that I am a diehard Burson-Marsteller fan. Over the years, I’ve been a Burson employee twice; I have also been a Burson client. I can honestly say that this agency not only houses some of the smartest people in the industry but the commitment to quality and client service are second to none. But enough about that.
The reason I’m really honored, proud and excited is that I truly believe this agency has all the qualities that the technology industry needs right now. We all know that technology is all grown up – when I first moved to the Bay Area in 2000, the technology industry spoke its own language and, for the most part, spoke to itself. Today, technology touches everyone. Every technology company I speak to wants to communicate their business and/or social value. They want to translate geeky content that gets engineers all frothy into concepts that make sense to business decision makers and consumers. Making complex concepts simple and weaving them into a compelling story is what I love to do and what Burson is really good at – we’ve been doing it for top tech brands for the past 40 years.
And while the technology industry is growing up and becoming more mature in its communications needs, companies in other industries want to wear the same innovation halo that the tech industry has worn for 30 years. This is another area that plays to Burson’s strengths. We’ve been in the business of managing and transforming corporate reputation since the day Harold Burson founded the company in 1953 and we’ve been communicating game-changing innovation stories for almost as long. That combination gives us a unique understanding of how to position a company’s innovation story within the broader context of their corporate objectives.
Many agencies can (and probably do) say these things, and there are plenty of very talented technology communications people outside of Burson-Marsteller (many of them are friends of mine). But where the rubber hits the road and what sets us apart from any other agency I’ve had experience with (either as an employee, client or candidate) is our unrelenting commitment to quality and excellent client service. So today I am honored to have the power of Burson behind me as I take on this leadership role. I proudly sell what Burson-Marsteller has to offer because I believe in our people and our work.
In Forbes this week George Bradt asks “Evolutionary, Revolutionary or Blended Innovation: Which is Right for Your Organization?”
As communicators, we know that every company wants to be perceived as innovative (as much as they’d also like to actually be innovative!). Do our communications strategies and tactics need to mirror the evolutionary or revolutionary models when we try to showcase our clients’ innovations? I’d argue that they don’t.
Bradt highlights Apple as a revolutionary innovator. We all know that Apple’s PR approach is the opposite of the transparent, all access approach that social media pioneers would call a revolution. Apple is deliciously old school in its command and control from the center approach to PR. But that approach hasn’t impacted their reputation as a wildly successful innovator at all. In fact, you could say that it’s enhanced it.
In contrast, companies who don’t have the gloss factor, or companies who are incrementally evolving to become more innovative every day may need to embrace revolutionary tactics just to get their stakeholders to sit up and take notice.
PR agency professionals often become so immersed in their clients’ cultures that they lack the perspective to see what evolutionary or revolutionary PR tactics will deliver truly great results. Guiding our clients to make the best decisions and take appropriate risks can be a revolution in and of itself.
Talking about technology for consumers is much more effective if you can show real purpose in the device. Communications professionals need to focus on tangible benefits for users across a variety of audiences. Showing = telling.
For example, B-M Italy developed “LOVE MY VILLAGE, LOVE MY SMARTPHONE" to promote smartphones with basic rather than advanced functionality. They turned the simplicity of the phone into its strength by focusing on users’ needs. Our clients’ phone was positioned as an easy-to-use Android device with the best value for money. In order to highlight the smartphone could suit anyone’s daily life despite age or social background, B-M Italy proposed that the client “adopt” Villa Biscossi, a small rural Italian village, to make it “The most connected place around Italy”. Our cleint provided each citizen with a basic smartphone and organized a “School of Smartphone” to teach everybody, from the youngest to the oldest, how to use the device to make their lives easier. B-M developed an on-going PR campaign that leveraged the simplicity of the device and its ability to meet the needs of the whole community. The initiative got strong positive media results in both traditional and new media, and registered a 900% ROI.
Communicating by engaging directly is what made this program such a success. And it’s a model that can be adopted anywhere in the world!
Big Data is everywhere…in headlines, tweets, executive and political speeches. But no matter the pervasiveness of Big Data, many question if it’s just a buzz-phrase with no definition or a movement that can reshape global business. I sway to the latter and I’m not alone. Last week, IDC forecasted the market for Big Data technology and services will grow from $3.2 billion in 2010 to $16.9 billion in 2015, representing a compound annual growth rate of 40 percent! Seems like more than buzz to me…
Following the topic for a couple years now, I’ve seen how organizations are letting data dictate new and innovative ways to operate. Not just tech organizations either. I’m seeing a major shift in business models of government organizations, non-profits, healthcare, O&G and yes…media and communications. There are a plethora of examples illustrating how entire industries are realigning based on the analysis and management of data. Most technology companies associate Big Data with solutions that hit the “5 Vs”:
IDC noted data volume will increase 44 times from 2009 to 2020.
With an increase in data, comes an increase in speed of transactions and need for answers. Having a lot of data is nothing if you can’t get quick access to insights.
Roughly 20% of data is numbers or structured information. The other 80% is unstructured. Text in emails, tweets, written records, etc. falls in this category. Unstructured even extends to things like maps, photos, video, audio, body gestures (?!).
Simply put, it’s built-in processes to recognize the good data and throw out the bad.
Data is nothing if we’re not getting value from it. Big Data should derive value in our insights and business processes. (Hear: We should sound smarter!)
From a PR perspective, we’re in an age of data-driven communications (Cision’s #1 trend for 2012). Access and analysis of smart data is critical to our business, the clients we support, and the media we work with. It’s the red thread throughout the communications cycle:
· Monitoring and analyzing the right data to find trends, risks and buzz
· Leveraging that data to respond, defend, or support perspective
· Presenting the data in the correct way to reach the right audiences
The process isn’t that different from years past. But, the volume of data, and number of analysis/presentation tools makes the potential for our industry to shine…big.
For dozens of reasons, many technology companies haven’t invested as much in the brand-burnishing activities that are a staple of corporate communications in nearly every other industry. In PR Week this week, discussing the just-released 2012 Global Corporate Reputation Index, a study conducted jointly by Burson, Landor and Penn Schoen Berland, Mark Penn commented on why some technology companies have gotten away with not doing what other companies consider table stakes PR. He said: “Technology is powering through on innovation but clearly the citizenship gap is growing and could catch up to the industry,” said Mark Penn, Burson's CEO. Penn says that technology may have been given a pass over time because of how much individuals rely on it to drive so many aspects of their lives.
During the 17 years I’ve been in the Valley I’ve been in countless conversations with traditional PR people (DC public affairs people, NYC corporate PR people) who say that technology companies need to wake up and invest in their brand building PR as much as other companies do. True enough. However, I think the opposite point is more interesting - the real lesson here is that every other industry can claim that innovation halo that tech has coasted on for decades.
To quote from the study again, ““Of all the industries, technology companies have the strongest average reputation,” reads the report.”However, the bulk of their reputation stems from attributes like “innovative” and “visionary”, suggesting a performance glow is driving the image of the industry. As a result, many technology companies are given the benefit of the doubt in terms of their citizenship efforts...”
Being perceived as an innovative company goes a long way. Who doesn’t want a performance glow? At Burson we focus on helping our clients in every industry grab a shiny part of that innovation halo for their brands. And, while we’re at it, we help tech companies do the types of corporate PR things that other industries do too.
Burson-Marsteller’s chief global digital strategist, Dallas Lawrence, published an article on Mashable.com offering advice on how business can prepare for online intrusions and the resulting communication demands. Dallas offers four pieces of advice: think ahead and anticipate; say something; know the law; and remember, you’re not alone.
Visit Mashable.com for the full article.
It’s impossible to miss the battle between old and new media now being waged across the Internet. Google published its black band, Wikipedia went dark and Wired redacted random words on its site. At issue are two pieces of legislation now pending in Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) is pending in the Senate.
The legislation is backed by old media – music companies and movie studies who which is clamoring for Congress’ help to stem the tide of intellectual property theft. Internet companies claim that the proposed legislation would disrupt the free flow of information and commerce.
The point of the protest was to show just how thoroughly online information streams have infiltrated our lives. The subtext is that online media has trumped traditional media in its importance when it comes to information consumers. When it comes to mobilizing supporters, the online protest has proved to be every bit as effective as the Tahrir Square Twitter feed.
The last time this debate erupted, Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 which was the first attempt by content companies to seek Congress’ help in their fight against piracy. While it was a tough fight, content companies had the upper hand. At that time, the battle was seen to be largely between Internet service providers such as telephone and cable companies and the movie studios who were demanding the copyright protection. Google was still on the white board, if that. Wikipedia wasn’t even dreamed of yet. The protests roiling over the Internet prove just how dramatically the world has changed in the last 12 years.
Unlike 1998 when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed, this time around, the copyright crackdown is not likely to pass. In the age of Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia, digital messages can be targeted and amplified in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. While many in our business are well acquainted with the power of the amplified digital message, several key law makers are apparently learning that lesson this week. In the very rare about-face in Washington, several law makers announced they had changed their mind on SOPA and PIPA.
Whether they embrace it or not, every company is a technology company now. Visa now brands itself as “a global payments technology company.” According to Time Magazine, Kaiser Permanente is a technology company. “Kaiser also makes very effective use of information technology in coordinating patient care. It maintains a single computerized record for each patient, so all physicians are looking at the same chart, where they can read their colleagues’ notes and know what they are thinking. In other healthcare “systems,” patients can often be seeing five doctors, none of whom have no idea what the others are planning or prescribing.”
A truly innovative company in any industry enjoys a perception of leadership, a stronger valuation and a brand halo.
A company in any industry that falls behind on technology and innovation has the opposite problem. Fast Company’s piece asks whether retailers’ brands are hurt because of e-commerce weaknesses, “Did Retailers Risk Damage To Their Brands Despite Hit Holiday Online Sales?” To quote: “. . . demand from would-be customers is sometimes outstripping not only e-commerce inventory but, more importantly, the systems for managing the shopping traffic… while companies have to put major thought and effort into building up the systems and infrastructure to handle an e-commerce environment . . . retailers have to do more to think about how they handle customer service in a virtual world. . . Perhaps the single most important thing retailers can do to prepare in 2012 is to put deep thought into the experience customers are having.”
Bloomberg BusinessWeek points out that the problems for retailers are incredibly challenging to solve. Across all of tech, the job market is tight, with too many openings chasing too few people with technical skills. The crunch comes at a time when brick-and-mortar chains need technologists more than ever as they upgrade their Web operations to compete with Amazon and other online retailers.”
Helping our clients tell their innovation stories – whether they are part of the technology industry or not – is a pillar of Burson’s corporate reputation work. A client that tells a strong innovation story can attract great developers to work for them, new customers who are thrilled with great online experiences, and draw attention to the management foresight that drove them to become an innovator. All of this delivers significant brand value. And isn’t that what we’re here for?
Once upon a time, there were advertising people, PR people, and marketers - each discipline had its own stage, tools, and experience. They communicated using different channels and methods to the same people.
But market evolution, critical audiences (who are information sources themselves now), and an unprecedented, outrageous access to information have changed everything.
The most interesting work now is more than an advertising or PR campaign. Look at “Gatorade Reply”, which touched every sense a consumer uses to engage with a brand. It was a brand repositioning campaign that turned regular people into message echoes, story lead characters and brand ambassadors. The campaign used creative, production, social networks, digital media, traditional media, interviews, PR, BTL… you name it. The controversial Benetton Unhate campaign is another great example. Maybe Benetton conceived it as a exterior campaign. Did they realize that hundreds of people around the world would adopt it, repeat it, and post it on their personal blogs, twitter accounts, Facebook profiles? Maybe they didn’t anticipate the PR component - first it was a damage control exercise, but that led to stories about the campaign appearing on the front page of some of the most important newspapers around the world. Was it an ad campaign? Or more? Where should we draw the line between paid media, free press, viral, etc.?
Today, we are not advertisers or PR professionals. We are all simply communicators.
It is not a secret that the world economy, specially regions or countries that used to be the growth engine of the global economic development, are going through difficult times. Economic growth can be maintained at a certain level, but the only thing that remains constant in economy is change, and we cannot expect for growth to continue to come from the same sources, or doing the same things.
Dilma Rousseff, current President of Brazil, said that “at this moment, the emerging countries are fostering the economic growth of the worldwide economy”. And, when talking about technology, Latin American countries are truly reflecting this trend. As comScore reported in its 2011 Yearly Digital Review of Latin America, the web population in the region is rapidly growing – while the growth is flat in North America and Europe – as more people move from shared-access environment to home and work usage. The market intelligence developed by IDC also reflected at the beginning of 2011 that the Information Technology industry in Latin America would grow 6.3% (US $74 billion) driven by Smarthphones (70% growth), Services (9.1%), Software (8.2%) and Hardware (4.7%).
The “consumerization” phenomenon – end consumers adopting new technologies and digital behaviors, forcing organizations to adapt to the new reality – has also triggered the use of Social Media by companies in Latin America, to engage current and potential customers. According to comScore’s whitepaper, in June 2011, 114.5 million people in the region visited a social network site (and the audience is climbing 16% year over year). Group-buying sites have taken off in Latin America: only in Argentina, one of every five web users visited the coupon site of Groupon in February 2011.
Within this bright scenario, there is still an important challenge that technology companies are facing in Latin America: education. The use of technologies to make processes more efficient and cost effective is relatively new to organizations, governments and consumers. Translating the benefits that technology brings to the real life of people in a region that has been immersed in decades of crises, is a huge opportunity. The IT companies that have already turned their eyes to emerging countries, not only to Brazil, but to Chile, Colombia, Peru, etc., have started to see where the growth could come in the near future.
It is true: in a global economy everyone is connected and affected by variations and crises. But in a region that has recently started to have access to the benefits of information technologies, you can be sure that nothing will make that stop.
“Global activity has weakened and become more uneven, confidence has fallen sharply recently, and downside risks are growing”, says the last edition of the World Economic Outlook (IMF) in reference to worldwide economy. However, Latin America is projected to expand over 4% at the end of this year. “In many economies, activity is above potential, credit growth is high, inflation is trending near or above the upper target range, and current account deficits are widening despite supportive commodity prices” according to the IMF.
Growing Latin American countries now have an opportunity to deploy campaigns that foster the social and economic development of their societies. Countries such as Chile, Uruguay and Argentina are introducing programs to give one notebook per child in a region where 4% of the world’s malnourished kids live.
Even though more than 1,750,409 netbooks distributed by the governments of these countries, more needs to be done. As Bernardo Kosacoff, Director of the Economic Commission for Latin America (CEPAL - UN), says in the introduction to the book The Future doesn´t wait: “The task of building a market - equalizing the opportunities, improving the capacities, developing the institutions and rethinking the role of private sector - it is equivalent to create a new environment to strengthen the economic program, to improve the distribution of the income and to generate decent employment, in which the competition factor is the quality of the workforce and not of the low wages” appointed. Otherwise, we could involuntary contribute to make a society that grows unequally and that will generate bigger gaps than people imagine about digital divides.
Maybe, in the “Big Data Age”, our role as communications professionals could find its future in a new framework supported by knowledge and not only machines and data. A Knowledge society demands the capabilities to understand the power of technology but also requires teamwork to empower each person so they can help make a better society. The digital divide is not just about access to devices, but also about access to information and content production.
Are our communication plans helping bridge the world’s digital divides? Technology and gadgets are fun, but there is something much more important behind them.
Rightly, the world (especially the tech world) has been falling over itself to comment on the passing of Steve Jobs, arguably the greatest CEO in recent times. Comparative few have offered their thoughts on the death, one week later, of another Silicon Valley icon who had potentially a greater effect on the technology world – Dennis Ritchie.
As the Economist wryly observed in its obituary, ‘all (Steve Jobs’) technological miracles, along with a billion others sold by Apple's competitors, would be merely pretty receptacles were it not for Dennis Ritchie. It is to him that they owe their digital souls, the operating systems and programs which make them tick.’ Why? Dennis Ritchie invented C programming language which fundamentally changed how software programs are created. Most modern software code is written using C's more evolved descendants. As if this was not a big enough deal, Mr Ritchie was also instrumental (with Ken Thompson and others) in developing Unix, an operating system project begun in 1969 that was originally intended to be a simpler way to run bulky mainframes.
Which of these two iconic Valley figures made it onto the cover of the Economist? Clearly the answer has a strong link back to perception and communication – some of the best known technologists have also been superb marketeers, and have had an inherent talent in articulating a vision, a view of the world that truly engages our imagination. Many others, on the other hand, have been humble, unassuming, and loath to court the media or the public but strikingly disruptive in their work. And though the two poles need not be mutually exclusive, they often are.
It is usually the tech visionary with the ability to translate their vision from ’lab speak’ to ‘man-in-the-street’ speak who achieves the recognition. It may be an overly simplistic way to look at things, and I am sure I will attract a lot of flack by saying this, but if we had to name some tech icons as either engineers OR marketeers, then many of us would have a view. For instance, Bill Gates.....engineer. Bill Joy....engineer. Gordon Moore....engineer. Marc Benioff....marketeer. Larry Ellison.....marketeer; Scott McNealy.....marketeer. Dare I say it: Steve Jobs....marketeer.
As technology becomes more and more central to everyone’s lives (not just Silicon Valley’s), perhaps we in the communications community should start to think far more seriously about how we help to articulate the vision, passions and achievements of the next Dennis Ritchie’s – the humbler icons of tomorrow’s technologies, the next big (but quieter) game-changers in our midst?
In May, Greenpeace issued a research entitled “How dirty is your data?“ a massive attack on the “Green IT” messages coming from the IT industry. While manufacturers, service providers and other IT companies say that technology helps to save energy, increase efficiency and avoid CO2 production through dematerialization, Greenpeace asked one simple question: What is the source of the energy that you consume? The answer of all major players was: It is dirty energy.
Within literally hours, millions of twitter posts, blog entries and articles in all major news outlets worldwide covered the research. Since that day, the rules of the game have changed. The question no longer is to demonstrate the green potential of IT – the question that really matters is: Are IT companies doing their best to create a sustainable business. Companies who focused too much of their messages on “green IT”, became the vulnerable to criticism when their operations do not comply with what they said.
Burson-Marsteller’s Brand Vulnerability Index reflects this: Together with its partner SIGwatch Burson-Marsteller makes a comprehensive analysis of a company’s business, operations, communications, corporate responsibility efforts and critical issues from a sustainability perspective. We match these findings with the current activities of the NGOs. The aim is to map the vulnerabilities and create an early warning system to protect our clients’ brands. NGOs often attack big brands to create awareness for a specific topic, and are turning more and more of their attention to IT companies. The recent Greenpeace attack against the IT industry is a perfect example: Apple had just become the most valuable brand in the world – and Greenpeace deliberately accused Apple to be the biggest sinner.
The reason why the IT industry is becoming the focus of NGOs is simple: People use electronic devices continuously and everywhere, mobile internet has become standard, and cloud computing and digitalization have changed the way how we store and compute data. IT is everywhere. IT matters – which is why IT matters to NGOs.
I am convinced there is more criticism to come. IT companies have to prepare themselves. They should stop using “Green IT” as an image formula that, to be honest, has always had some bad flavor of green washing. Sustainability must be a holistic approach including products, services and operations. Companies who are able to prove their sustainability efforts in all these areas will be trustworthy and accepted by a more and more critical public. Communicators have an important role to play in this game – internally as well as externally. Internally, they have to make sure that sustainability is really a core strategy of a company. Externally, they are the ones that create a company’s image with professional strategies.
I remember when I signed-up for a Twitter account in 2007 – back then, Twitter seemed redundant to me. I was already an active Facebook user and could not understand why I would need constant updates on my friends’ whereabouts or daily musings.
Fast forward to today where the number of tweets per day has more than doubled since the beginning of the year. When Dick Costolo, Twitter’s CEO, was at the Web 2.0 Summit dinner the other day, he told attendees that there are 100 million active Twitter users, serving up almost 250 million tweets every day. Twitter is the first medium to broadcast everything from celebrity breakups to political uprisings. Information gathered and analyzed from Twitter is being used to do very important and world changing work like tracking epidemics and vaccination rates.
To me, Twitter has become a new form of mass media. I don’t see Twitter solely as a communications vehicle - though it certainly is that for many people. Instead, Twitter has become my go-to “channel” for instant news and information about the things I care about. I’m actually pretty selective about the people I follow so the information I get is usually pretty relevant, interesting and fresh. Now, I realize this isn’t rocket science. We all get that Twitter has become the new RSS feed. But I’m actually wondering if it’s more disruptive than that. Is Twitter for this generation what CNN was to the one before?
As a reporter, I craved the swashbuckling CEO; the leader who threw caution to the wind, shot from the hip, steamrolled ahead and didn't care about the fall-out. He or she was right, and damned to all who didn't agree or who didn't get it.
As a PR guy, my perspective is decidedly different, and the seeing the fall-out before the CEO does is now a key part of my job. The pressure today to respond, to react, to lead, is critically intense. The pressure to innovate, or at least offer the appearance of innovation has never been greater. And the importance of trusted advisers to maintain a consistency of message, to keep a company from making a messaging mistake, or shooting from the hip and hoping it all turns out OK is now more mission critical than ever before, thanks to the blogosphere and a 24-hour news cycle that has suddenly condensed to the 24-second news cycle instead.
We've seen massive companies try out wrenching strategic changes in the media and hope for the best; we've seen smaller, more nimble companies with mercurial CEOs come up with an idea internally and order the team to get behind the idea and then publicly introduce it, with little to no market testing, or cohesive messaging, or strategic planning, and likewise, hope for the best.
That strategy, in the wild west days of Silicon Valley a few decades ago, worked because companies and executives had time to make mistakes and then recover. That time doesn't exist today. The media's punishment for a bad call is almost as swift as Wall Street's, and both can be devastating.
I'm certainly not suggesting innovation and reaction should cease. I'm all for moving the ball forward as quickly as possible. "As possible" becomes the operative phrase there. I'm suggesting that companies and their leadership borrow a tactic from the DIY crowd: measure twice, cut once. A good idea internally may blow up externally. And second chances are a lot more difficult to come by nowadays.
The reporter in me says throw caution to the wind! I know how that goes. The PR guy in me says shooting from the hip usually means a gunshot wound to your own foot.
Yesterday, the technology industry lost a great visionary, leader and innovator. It’s universally acknowledged that Steve Jobs’ vision changed the world and his passing not only impacts the company he co-founded, but the industry as a whole.
There really isn’t much to add to everything that has already been written about Steve Jobs’ legacy. So we thought we’d just share this piece by Walt Mossberg, legendary WSJ columnist and media cynic, who shares some very real insights into working with Jobs over the past 14 years.
*Pirates of Silicon Valley
Congress is taking apart President Obama’s jobs bill, the partisan bickering is reaching a fever pitch, and we in Silicon Valley are doing what we’ve always done – creating jobs. Chris Shipley’s Guidewire Group has created a site - http://www.startupjobscount.org to count how many jobs starts up have created. They will report on the data they gather from start ups not just in the US but globally.
The tech industry’s great virtue (in Silicon Valley or anywhere in the world) has always been an intense focus on creating and delivering value. While it may be true that the passion underlying that focus is a great desire for money and glory, any company that does everything it can to deliver new and different value to meet new and different needs stands a good chance of creating more jobs.
This is going to be a very interesting story to follow.
“Never a dull moment!” That’s something I heard a lot this week from colleagues and friends in the industry. Seems as though these days, not a week goes by without a CEO stepping down, someone suing or acquiring someone else, or some other corporate mishegas. Never a dull moment, indeed.
But maybe it all is kind of dull. In the midst of it all this week, Om Malik Tweeted: “I miss the days when you could count on @scottmcnealy and Larry to spice things up. These days we don't say anything fun anymore.” I kind of agree. Sure, plenty of technology executives are making the headlines but back when I started in the industry, it felt like the battles that were being waged in the industry were fueled by passion and you felt like you were part of a movement. A movement that had the potential to change the world. Back then, I downloaded Netscape and disabled Explorer and made all of my family and friends do the same. The browser wars and the fight for “open” were about much more than antitrust litigation. It was all about doing the “right” thing.
I’m no expert on antitrust, I leave that to my fabulous colleague Lisa Poulson, but I do know that in the days of Sun Microsystems and Netscape, there was clearly a good guy and a bad guy. The good guy was fighting for the future of the industry while the bad guy (it seemed) was only out to rule the world. And, as Om mentions, that dynamic made for some great stories. But today, it’s hard to know who the good guy is. The religion that fueled companies like Sun Microsystems and made them true contenders against the likes of much larger competitors, no longer seems to exist. Today, everyone seems to be working their own agenda and playing lip-service to the industry and the end-user. So who's the good guy? Who’s going to fight for what’s right for the industry as a whole?
Recent press coverage and online commentary has highlighted the increasingly heated battle between iOS, Android, Blackberry OS and Windows Mobile – and it seems that the operating system has come to the fore in phone purchase decision making. A quick survey of local phone stores confirms that people decide on OS first and then device.
So what does this mean for device manufactures? Apple and Blackberry are perhaps exceptions since device and OS are exclusively and tightly bundled. But for the rest is there a danger that they become generic and commoditised? It is already apparent both from a glance around your typical phone shop, and from the slew of patent-infringement claims, that there is actually little difference between the vast majority of handsets. Have we seen the last of the distinctive handsets from manufacturers? My guess is, that the dominance of the iPhone as well as the demands of conforming to a common operating system, are driving them to create ranges of look-a-like phones.
The beauty of this for Google in particular, as developer of Android, is that although we’ll upgrade our phones every couple of years, we are increasingly loyal to one operating system. It’s not just the way the OS works and our getting accustomed to that; we are effectively locked in by the ease of transferring data, contacts, photos etc. between handsets using the same OS. The flip side is that as phones become smarter, and the amount and importance of data they contain increases, the hassle and risk of switching OS increases. The value of this data, plus the opportunities to capture more and use it to target advertising is the obvious overall benefit to Google.
Once we’ve ‘bought in’ to a particular OS the way we select a handset becomes more and more of a lottery influenced by brand advertising and the advice (possibly determined by commission level) of the sales assistant.
So, will the mobile device market go the same ways as that of computers: manufacturers churning out clones of a standard spec at low margin whilst the software developers reap the benefits? The signs are there, as noted above. However, there is still plenty of room for innovation. Phones are increasingly multi-tasking devices, but have retained a form factor similar to the ‘traditional’ mobile phone albeit more screen-centred. However, there could be numerous other options – depending on personal use and preference.
Almost a decade ago I saw a reference design by a company called IXI Mobile that deconstructed the ‘phone’ into a selection of individual devices that communicated via Bluetooth. At the heart was a GSM device the size of a matchbox that contained the SIM and acted as the hub of a personal network of devices. Depending on your needs you could use it with a headset, a flat screen, a keypad or several other devices. Each worked singly or as part of a cluster, all communicating through the hub. I don’t know what happened to IXI, but it seems to me that the time is ripe to break away from the generic clones and re-think the mobile handset.
Friday, September 16, 2011
Cogito ergo sum - I think therefore I am - can’t even nominally be extended to “I think leadership, therefore I am a leader.” Yet, nearly 400 years after Descartes penned the notion, businesspeople around the globe are doing exactly that. In my most recent guest blog in CIO’s Leadership Blog, I outline how today’s CIO can become a thought leader.
One day, back in the mid-late 90’s, I showed up at my mother’s house all decked out in a new pair of bell-bottom jeans and cork wedge sandals. My mother took one look at me and, with an exasperated sigh, said: “you young people haven’t invented anything – I was wearing that before you were born.” I remember thinking she just didn’t get it. Clearly what I was wearing was original and much cooler and more interesting than anything her generation wore. This year, as IBM marks its 100th anniversary and the dot.com boom makes a comeback, I’ve been reminded of that day and have wondered if maybe my mother was right. Because, much like those bell-bottoms and cork-wedge sandals, the “disruptive” technology of today looks a lot like the innovation and vision that fueled the technology revolutions of the past.
As both Lisa Poulson and Jim Goldman point out in their posts, self-syndication and the 24/7 newscycle have forced journalists and communications people to work differently – we’re still selling stories but they need to be “revolutionary,” “new,” “breakthrough,” or “cutting edge.” Not only that but they need to be easily explained in 140 characters. The problem with that, in my opinion, is that everyone’s so focused on making “news” that we completely disregard context and perspective. Yes, there’s a lot of innovation out there, but for those of us who’ve been around for a while, it’s hard not to cringe when someone/something is being hailed as “new and revolutionary” without a nod to the people/concepts that came before. Because, let’s face it, before Mark Zuckerberg, there was Marc Andreesen; before The Cloud there were ASPs and “The Big Friggin’ Webtone Switch” (extra points for whoever gets that reference); and before Gilt Group, there was Webvan.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily agree with TechCrunch’s Paul Carr when he writes: “It’s only cool when you’re the first one to do it.” (To be fair, he was referring to the maddening number of 20-something entrepreneurs that Sarah Lacy describes as: “the tribute band for the Aaron-Sorkin-fictionalized-version of Mark Zuckerberg.”) But let’s get a little perspective and appreciate that a good story isn’t always new. Sometimes, it’s better the second (or third) time around. Kind of like those bell-bottom jeans.
If you’ve been in this industry for more than 5 years, I’m sure you’ve experienced the kind of deja-vu I’m talking about. Do you think all innovation stories need to be revolutionary? Or can an evolutionary approach also make headlines?
I’m not the first, nor will I be the last, reporter to make the jump from journalism to PR, but I can tell you this has been a fascinating year of transition, education and fun. Never a dull moment, to say the least.
Last September, I left CNBC after nearly 7 years as the network’s Silicon Valley Bureau Chief. They were some of the most rewarding and challenging years of my 20-plus as a tech and financial broadcast reporter. The time was right to make a change I never thought I could and the lessons I've learned thus far have been important ones.
I left CNBC because over the last two or three years, I had noticed a significant shift in how news was being “reported,” “digested,” “pitched,” “followed,” “broken” and “analyzed.” Speed mattered. Still matters. No longer are the cable nets trying to beat tomorrow's papers. They're trying to beat the blogosphere too which is really a hodge podge of varying rules and regulations when it comes to reporting news. I'm not suggesting cable nets or Tier 1 dailies and mags don't bend and break rules of their own, but standards are so different from outlet to outlet that being first sometimes comes at a cost.
But one thing is for sure: relationships matter, today more so than ever before. The power pendulum swings era to era between PR and media: it used to be that a hot company could afford to keep reporters at bay; a needy company could go begging. A hotshot Tier 1 reporter could afford not to return a call or email; a cub reporter not so much. Nowadays, everyone is an instant blogpost away from superstardom or goathood, and it can happen in a heartbeat.
News moves so fast, but the PR pro who knows whom to call, whom to trust, whom to brief, whom to confide in, wins. The reporter who makes the effort, maintains the relationship, reports fairly, accurately, takes some time to ask about the message, wins. Are some reporters slimy? Some PR folks? Sure. But they're few and far between. The good ones, from both sides, can rely on each other and do their jobs better.
Trust takes time and it must be earned; meaningful relationships take work. Journalism and PR have both gone through remarkable change these last few years, but those who embrace this most basic concept even in the face of such change stand the best chance of weathering it. Access and authenticity mattered to me as a reporter. They are critical to me now in the PR world.
The cycles of debate about whether social media is destroying, augmenting or superseding PR have been going on for ten years – with varying degrees of hysteria. Editors (or should I say former editors) like Mike Arrington suggest PR people don't need to exist. Tom Foremski has predicted the eventual demise of our business. Besides the obvious question of who would buy reporters drinks if PR people didn't exist, I do think there's a deeper issue here. The fundamental purposes of public relations remain the same. We have two missions: first, to tell stories that engender interest, brand loyalty and goodwill in organizations and the people who run them; second, to encourage companies and individuals to tell those stories with integrity and transparency. Say what you will about spin, but the best PR people don't lie – it is a short term strategy that only leads to bigger PR crises in the long run. Just ask Harold Burson.
In 2005, I wrote a few columns for Chris Shipley's Guidewire Group. This was when blogging was destroying journalism. In April, 2005, I wrote: "Blogs are a way to communicate. Everyone communicates. We type, we talk. We always have. Whether bloggers are "journalists" or not doesn't matter. What does matter is that the 'walls' of our organizations are now glass. The lights are always on. Highly empowered people want to comment on, attempt to influence or even perhaps try to control what we do - and they have keyboards. In some cases, they have an amazing ability to get internal company information. (Or an incomprehensible amount of spare time. Or both.) Whether sycophantic, benign or malicious, these communicators are being heard and sought out by reporters, your customers, your competitors – the very stakeholders we PR people are paid to reach and influence. Blogs are chipping away at the control of the things corporate communicators hold dear - our right to define the message, our right to provide or withhold access, our conceit that we can shape the discussion about our companies and the news flow that surrounds them. In short, our little fantasy that we set the agenda. Oh dear!"
I won't take credit for pre-saging Wikileaks (I'm sure someone else has done that already), but what's interesting about reading this 6 ½ year old column is how much remains the same. Every type of social media is chipping away at PR's power to define its message, manage access, shape the discussion, and even define the brand. But our mission remains the same – tell a compelling story with transparency and integrity. We just do it differently now. We have to do it faster, because of the 24 hour global instant news cycle. We have to do it more succinctly, because no one wants to read more than 140 characters any more. Cheap scalability is hugely valuable in the message distribution business, so provided one has the stamina, discipline and organizational skills to use all of your tools well you can do amazing things in communications these days. But we still have to say something interesting and true.
Is interesting and true unique to tech PR? Do we achieve that standard ourselves?
In Burson's tech practice we've spent the last decade working our heads off for our fantastic clients rather than blogging. Now we're going to do both! Welcome to Burson-Marsteller Global Tech Track. We're confining our discussion here to places that use and think about technology – that is everywhere in the world. We look forward to hearing from you. . .