Pay-per-view PR?

Nick Carr’s post on pay per view journalism has sparked some interesting debate. It set me thinking that maybe this is the way PR could go ie pay per view on press releases.

For example – when you post a press release on Daryl Willcox’s Sourcewire, you can see how many views each press release has received – will we see the day when agencies will be paid based on the number of views a release gets?

Of course, there are a lot of caveats here – not all views of the release will be from bona fide journalists (indeed, many of those page views will be from rival PR agencies checking out the competitions’s press release – or if a release gets "Dug", then you will have a lot of non-relevant punters looking at it).

But I don’t doubt that some form of this model is going to be increasingly demanded by clients. Then again, as we all know, measurement determines behaviour – so for journalists and PRs who would have to live by this approach, you will no doubt see people using terms and phrases that will help increase "viewability" – rather than relevance or accuracy.

Five things you didn’t know about me

Unlike Sally Whittle, I haven’t been memed yet re: five things you don’t know about me.

But why should that stop me?

Here’s my contribution:

1. I was a dressing room assistant for Rudolph Nureyev (for the Paris Opera Ballet company)
2. I’ve been a keyboard player for Mick Jagger (albeit a computer keyboard).
3. My wife and I were married by a blacksmith.
4. Although I grew up in Scotland, I was born in the traditional centre of England (Meriden, nr Coventry)
5. The first person I photographed and interviewed as a journalist was Eddy Shah, the then proprietor of the Today newspaper.

Peter Judge: IT Anthems revived

I could do with a laugh – so thanks to Peter Judge for providing one:

Peter Judge: IT Anthems revived

You do have to wonder what possesses people to think that these corporate anthems will be taken remotely seriously by anyone. Surely any self respecting prospect would think twice about buying products or services from companies that would lend their names to these?

And further kudos to Peter for unearthing this – a never thought I’d live to see the day when someone wrote a rock song about Two Factor Authentication – where’s Spinal Tap when you need em?

Farewell to Scotland’s oldest paper boy

My father’s funeral service took place last Thursday, January 18th, 2007 at Fetteresso Church, Stonehaven and he was buried at Fetteresso Cemetry, Kirkton, Stonehaven.

My tribute delivered at the funeral is below – not sure I did full justice to 92 years of life, but I hope he would have appreciated it. Many thanks for all the kind words and support from an army of people over the last two weeks.

The life of Alexander Bruce Smith was both long and extraordinary.

Born in Drumlithie in 1915, he grew up on a small farm called Cuttiesouter, up the Auchenblae road – Alex’s descriptions of his early childhood could have come straight from the pages of Sunset Song.

From these tough, but happy, beginnings – and like so many fellow Scots before him – he developed an early wanderlust.

His chosen route away from the Mearns was through the RAF. However, his mother didn’t want him to join  – so she put his draft papers on the fire. Undeterred, he reapplied and with typical Smith stubbornness, eventually joined, albeit a year later than originally planned.

It was the beginning of an amazing period of travel and adventure.

The British troop presence in the Afghanistan/North-West India Frontier region is a regular feature in the news today – and we shouldn’t forget that 70 years ago, British forces were performing a similar role. Alex was one of their number – and the sights, sounds and experiences of that time must have seemed a world away to him from the North East life.

One of his jobs was to drive a truck through the Khyber Pass – others seemed to return with vehicles riddled with bullet holes. He was never shot at once. This was the beginning of what he himself described as a “charmed life”.

During the Second World War, he never saw action once. As he put it, wherever he went, the enemy either surrendered or retreated. He was Britain’s secret weapon – he once joked that if they’d sent him to Japan, perhaps the Americans wouldn’t have had to drop the atomic bomb….

Returning to Britain after the war, he met and married the love of his life, our mother, Enid May.

They settled in post-war Coventry. He wasn’t afraid of hard work and at one point he held down three jobs at once to bring up a young family. He was also a great believer in self- improvement, studying in his spare time and attending evening classes.

It helped him to achieve a good job with Midland Counties Dairy. But in 1970, he was made redundant. However, always a “glass half full” man, he saw this as an opportunity to finally run his own business.  He moved along with the rest of the family back to Stonehaven to run a milk delivery operation.

More hard work turned this into a going concern. It also saw the emergence of one of the most famous fashion items on the street’s of Stonehaven – the balaclava.

The business grew and in 1973 he opened a newsagent shop in Mary Street. He enjoyed talking to customers and they could always count on what could diplomatically be called “high calibre debate” whether about psychology, politics or sport.

Of course, any reference to Alex’s life needs to mention sport. There were 4 areas that were particularly dear to his heart:

–    football – he was Aberdeen FC’s biggest fan – and critic. He always said that if won the lottery, the first thing he’d do was buy the club. At least he departed with a victory for the Dons over Kilmarnock.

–    tennis – he was a very good tennis player – according to Alex, if not for the war, he would have won Wimbledon.

–    cross country running – ran for top athletic club Coventry Godiva Harriers

–    draughts – he was one of Scotland’s leading draughts  players.
His draughts playing also took him far and wide – to the Orkney’s and to Ireland and many places in England. He represented his country and won numerous trophies. I know he had many friends from the Aberdeen Draughts Club and the wider draughts community who will miss his competitive spirit.

Turning to his later life, when mum died in 1995, he immersed himself in tracing the Smith family tree. He pursued this activity with his usual energy, enthusiasm and determination.

A good example of his single-minded focus were the trips he made to Canada to seek and find long lost relatives. You have to admire him for simply booking a plane ticket to Canada and literally turning up on people’s doorsteps and introducing himself.  Of course, he was welcomed with open arms – and his natural charm went a long way in helping to trace the family tree – by his own reckoning he’d discovered 400 Canadian relatives and 200 in the United States – and this was only the tip of the iceberg, he said.

We also shouldn’t forget that he was incredibly active up until only a few years ago. He would still rise at 5am every morning – Scotland’s oldest paper boy.

All in all, a hard-working, funny, loyal and intelligent self-made man who lived life to the full. As he himself said only recently – I may be old, but I’m young at heart. He’ll be greatly missed by the family – Joan, Jim, Stan and myself – his sister Dot, his brother David, his grandchildren James, Jawad, Adam and Archie. In fact the town of Stonehaven has lost a great character. But I’m sure he would not want us to look at this as a sad occasion, but more of a celebration of a long and fulfilled 92 years.

In fact, his favourite phrase before he retired for bed every night was:

“Ah, but it’s a great life.”

I can’t think of a better way to describe his.

Alexander Bruce Smith – RIP

Its going to be quiet around here for the next week or so.

My father, Alexander Bruce Smith, passed away last night – 6 days short of his 92nd birthday.

The world of hi-tech PR seems strangely inconsequential this morning.

Premium rate phone numbers for press enquiries

I shamefully confess my ignorance of the above practice – however, a further comment (below) from Ian Murphy had me reaching to check that someone hadn’t dropped an acid tab in my coffee – have the lunatics finally taken over the PR asylum?

The premium rate/national rate number scam has been around a few years now.
Luckily it’s been confined to a small number of agencies but a couple of
large agencies are now giving it serious thought. One even said to me the
other day that it was to reduce the amount of time they spent dealing with
journo enquiries and to leave them more time to do the campaign stuff their
clients paid for. You can work out my response.

What IT journalists think of PR at the moment

Well, one at least – I posted a question about the state of PR on the UK Press e-mail list – this was the response from Ian Murphy:

You asked for it.

Over the last 24 years of doing IT journalism the level of PR competence has
gone up and now down. While it took a long time to rise it does appear to be
falling faster than anything you care to mention.

It is not just the current or last few crops of young flaks who are the
problem. Many of them seem to be getting little support or training from
their employers or supposed more experienced colleagues. We all know when
there is a new intake because the conversations go along the lines of:

<Flack> Can I speak to Ian Murphy?
<Me> Speaking
<Flack> I’m calling from XYZ and am just checking journalist details.
<Me> OK. Who exactly are you?
<Flack> Opps. Sorry. My name is Airhead 1.
<Me> Good morning to you. What do you need to know?
<Flack> I need to check what we have on the system.
<Me> OK. Read me out what you have and I’ll tell you when it’s wrong.
<Flack> Well I don’t have access to the computer, just a list of names.
<Me> Aha.
<Flack> Could I start by getting your telephone number?
<Me> You just called me.
<Flack> So I did. Giggle
And on it goes.


<Flack> Can I speak to Ian Murphy?
<Me> Speaking
<Flack> I’m calling about vendor ABC and their new product heck-Knows. Could
I ask if it is the sort of thing you cover?
<Me> Who exactly are you and where are you calling from?
<Flack> I’m Airhead 2 and I work for XYZ on the ABC account.
<Me> OK. So what does this product actually do?
<Flack> Well, er, I can email you a product sheet
<Me> That’s a good start
<Flack> Could I get your email address
<Me> It’s the one on your system
<Flack> Oh right. I can see that here. Is this something you would normally
write about then?
<Me> What does it say on your system? After all, I’m sure you checked before
calling me?
And so on.

This is not the exception it’s becoming the norm. I’ve done enough training
for PR Agencies and every single time I stress the "don’t call them unless
you know who they are and what they write on" message. Sadly, it doesn’t
appear to be getting through.

Another problem is follow-up. There is nothing more irritating that getting
a pitch by phone or email that’s interesting. When you then phone/email the
agency and say "How about an interview with the client and then we’ll see if
it turns into a feature or just a review" it’s reasonable to expect some
response, not have to chase them later. When you do chase and nothing
happens it’s not just annoying but if you’ve already started the ball
rolling by suggesting something to an editor, it makes you look like a prat
when the agency doesn’t follow up. These days, my tolerance is so low I pass
every single one of these back to the client along with the reason why the
editor has now cancelled the review. If I had any faith that there was an
responsible adult at the agencies, I’d call and talk to them. Those of you
who’ve known me a long time will know that I do make the effort from my side
but it’s becoming just too one sided.

The increasing use of premium rate numbers by agencies just leads to me
calling the client directly and telling them that I’ve bypassed the agency
because I’m not paying premium rate for their marketing pitch. I don’t think
this is unreasonable and I have given serious thought to installing a line
just for PR people to call. I even went through the numbers with NTL and
worked out that most agencies wouldn’t notice even if I pitched it at 75p
per minute. This would, by the way, give me a nice little earner each month
offsetting the amount of electricity I currently use.

When you actually have some understanding of the subject matter you find
yourself labeled "difficult", "irritating", "scary" or "geek". The latter I
can live with but the rest just show a remarkable lack of interest in the
job. I used to think that agencies wanted to talk to people who knew the
market because it would make for a better experience with the client. It
appears that is no longer the case. They are more scared of being shown up
for having too many lightweights on their staff.

However, in defence of the PR industry, I’d like to point out that the
increasing use of disinterested journos by magazines who just want the story
spoonfed to them, in the same way as it is in the US, is exacerbating the
situation. We are in risk of ending up with a US Style approach where the
marketing message goes straight from the agency onto the page. This is not
just in IT but in other areas I cover such as sport and the toy industry.

Am I surprised that most are not making money? No! Do I think it’s going to
get better? No! That’s because those who cared are far enough up the food
chain to have paid off their houses, have their cars and a reasonable

Right. Time for my gout pills, a extra large spoon of cynic to go and I’m
sure it’s past my bedtime.


Now that’s what I call a Kodak moment!

The perfect antidote to a cold, grey London afternoon – big thumbs up to Kodak for putting a bit of humour into marcomms.

And thanks to the lads and lasses at Rainier PR for putting us on to this one.

75pc of UK plc senior managers to retire in next 3 years?

According to Management Today:

A considerable majority of the UK’s senior managers are due to retire in the next three years, claims a new leadership report from the Hay Group this week. The report states that up to three-quarters of the country’s senior executive managers will have collected the gold watch and donned their slippers by 2010. That means a pretty substantial upheaval in the higher echelons of UK plc is in the offing, and brings the perennial debate about succession planning back into sharp focus.

75pc is an extraordinarily high number – as implied here, who is going to fill their shoes?

Made me think about the PR industry –  increasing numbers of over-40s and above are getting out of the business altogether – which I guess is a form of "retiring". Will the PR industry’s woes be further compounded by the increasing lack of "grey hair".

Why has mainstream PR stopped growing?

Link: ANALYST EQUITY: Why has mainstream PR stopped growing?

Duncan Chapple has posted re: UK PR industry performance in 2006. His post worth repeating here:

The PR industry has stopped growing. The annual PR Consultants
Analysis, which reviews the top 1000 PR consultancies, is an annual
study whose 2006 findings
were also depressing. The 2007 report states that average sales growth
has fallen to zero. Pre-tax margins are remain around 4%.

two companies in five experienced falling sales last year. One quarter
are in serious financial difficulty. On average, firms in the
poorest-performing quartile suffered a 25% fall in sales, while their
invoices took on average 79 days to be paid.

According to
Christopher Evans, the senior analyst on the Plimsoll report, "the next
six months will be a time for tough decisions and painful measures as
their managers attempt to put them back on a firm financial footing."
PR agencies are often short on financial prudence and use discredited metrics. However, it is PR’s trivial reputationweak brand alignment that undermines it. That also partly explains why many AR managers avoid the PR label.

As regular readers will know, I’m in agreement with Duncan’s analysis. The trends that have been discussed here over the last 18 months aren’t going to go away. A vicious circle of dwindling senior expertise and lack of investment in training (which leads to the situation Charles Arthur and others encounter daily); a seeming inability of PR to be able to measure and demonstrate its business value; an almost pathological contempt for good financial management; I could go on.

So, Duncan’s point – why has mainstream PR stopped growing? Because on the whole PR companies are still offering mainstream PR services – which is now a highly commoditized market. In fact, much of the basic mechanics of PR can easily be carried out by clients themselves.  And more and more are cottoning on to this.
(Imagine: armed with a few subscriptions to some basic PR support services such as Sourcewire, virtually any company can have a basic PR operation ready to roll for a few grand. They simply want to add the relevant expertise to the process (which no  doubt explains the rise in project based PR).

I do believe that clients are very willing to pay for real expertise and experience – but that really is a scarce commodity – hence the rapid rise in senior people going freelance or starting small shops – with no desire to grow to become a 100 person agency in 2 years. Because what’s the point? If your pre-tax margin is 4pc then even with a topline in the millions that represents a paltry return – and where’s the exit?  As ever, there are exceptions, but on the whole, you aren’t going to earn your millions working for a large PR firm. However, I’d suggest that senior PR folk can earn what any normal person would describe as a very healthy living by offering their services in small, highly focussed packages. Add in the sense of control, lifestyle flexibility, closer client relationship, etc, you can see why people are doing it.

Would be good to see some kind of more detail analysis of the freelance/small shop end of the market – I suspect there may be a happier story here than the one Duncan describes….

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