Monday, 29 November 2010

Cablegate: the information Goldrush

There’s only one story this week and it’s Wikileaks. The ultimate media feeding-frenzy has begun. It’s going to be a bit like this: (if you have a bird phobia, it’s NSFW).

But it’s going to last longer. With 250,000 missives to sift through, employees of every ‘serious’ media outlet will be gainfully employed for weeks piecing together interesting story-lines from the quirky, to the worrying to the downright outrageous.

As @richardbacon (of all people) said on Twitter last night: “some of these wikileak revelations are astonishing:”. (great Guardian journalism by the way).

The wikileaks affair (or #cablegate as it’s known on Twitter), is a lesson in how the web has changed the information economy for good. It is the ultimate embodiment of freedom of information.

But it will also be an education in the role of the Editor. With 251,287 potential stories to publish, the media will have many difficult calls to make on which ones are the biggest news and which ones make the most compelling content (the Sun has already shown its cards, I’m surprised they missed the ‘Ghaddaffi’s Ukrainian Nurse’ opportunity:

It will also pit editors against citizen journalists, the ‘editorial filter’ against the ‘social filter’. With 250,000 potential scoops, anyone, from a blogger to CNN, has the opportunity to find a nugget of gold or help form opinion. Wikileaks is like a gold rush for information. Everyone will be at it. This is a time of true 'media democracy'.

And brands should take notice. Why? Well…

1. It’ll be a lesson in content: aside from which stories make headlines, it’s a great opportunity to listen online (Twitter, forums, etc) and find out what kind of story drives online buzz.

2. It just got competitive: Cablegate gives the press enough to fill their pages 100x over from here until 2011, so you need to be even more creative with your brand to get profile.

3. Milk the agenda: such a huge agenda point gives brands an opportunity so they should explore whether they can relevantly (seriously or amusingly) get involved in the debate.

4. It could happen to them: already people are asking whether wikileaks should divert its energy towards corporate as well as government targets ( Beware.

5. Learn from the zeitgeist: Cablegate will create a whole new set of cultural reference points, brands should think like pundits and commentators to remain relevant.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Royal Wedding: Boon or Bust for Brands?

So he’s done it. He’s done what millions of blokes do every year. That awkward one knee thing. Except when he does it, it becomes a cottage industry. It becomes a global talking point. It becomes a bone of contention. A Republican-Monarchist debate. A change in the national mood. And a Daily Mail wankfest.

Taking a step back (unlike the Daily Mail who’s taken 16 steps/pages forward this morning) or Paddy Power whose ad has already used the Royal Couple’s image (, what does this mean in media and brand terms over the coming months? Is it an opportunity or is it something to be avoided? What are the things that make it a ‘boon’ or a ‘bust’ for your brand and what can you do about it?

On the ‘boon’ side, the clearest positive for brands is the mood of patriotism the wedding is likely to generate, creating a greater domestic appetite for ‘Britishness’ and a more positive ‘retail’ mood. With the world watching, British brands will also have a great shop window in which to display their innovations, creativity and quality. Media obsession will mean journalists will look for the ‘wedding angle’ in everything, creating a ‘cottage industry’ of tie-ups, media partnerships and promotions. Ultimately, there will be a whole new market created in wedding-related goods, from classic merchandise such as the ‘Mug’ to higher-quality, more subtle packages and products.

On the ‘bust’ side, the obvious watch-out is the ‘perfect storm’ of marketing and PR clutter which will spring up at key points along the next 6-8 months, interspersed with the likely fatigue and disinterest which will hit once the initial media frenzy has subsided (a cycle which will continue relentlessly). There is also a fine line to walk between taking developments into account when planning and over-commercialising what is ultimately a personal occasion – opportunism in the asence of relevance or humour will be punished. Finally, if a brand messes up, oversteps the mark or is too crass, millions of critics await on Twitter. A foot out of place will be instant news.

In five – what brands might do:

1. Know your place – brands need to know whether they have a right to talk wedding and if they do, what is the narrative for their involvement, their context and the tone to adopt;

2. Know the media cycle – the build up will be so significant that the ‘wedding trajectory’ must be fed into planning, if only to avoid key dates and potential media obscurity;

3. Be respectful or be funny – brands with a more relevant link should be subtle and luxury in feel, those who don’t should use humour (but not cruel humour);

4. Brit abroad – British brands can capitalise on the wedding abroad, where people will also be celebratory and interested but less informed, simply by dialing up their Britishness;

5. Be flexible – allow some flexibility to respond to the media agenda and think with a journalist's mindset about how your brand can enhance or bring credibility to an editorial environment.

An apology and an excuse

So I’ve been away from the blogosphere for most of October and half of November.

Apologies to my 2 readers.

What started with 2½ weeks in Portugal and California ended in a need to cram two weeks work into the ensuing two weeks with already busy clients and a realisation that re-entering the digital world after a 2 week hiatus is harder than expected. Ignorance of the news agenda and of what was doing the rounds online meant I lost my inspiration to write anything interesting. I now understand what they mean by writer’s block...

So after 2 inspirational weeks in the home of Port wine and the home of entertainment and some amazing client projects, I have many things to write about but unfortunately my mission is to stick to the news agenda. And there is only one thing on it this week. Royal. Wedding.

Forgive me for any rustiness.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Britain: 3rd World and Proud

The big news this week has been the Pope’s visit, albeit more in cynical anticipation than anything else (excuse to post this: Joking aside, most interesting was the description of the UK as a ‘3rd world country’ by one of His Holiness’ aides. The term 3rd world has its origins in the cold war and was a term that emerged to describe all those countries which aligned neither to the West or the USSR.

My thought for the week is that we are a 3rd world country (in its true sense), but that this is a great thing for us, British brands and British businesses. Here's why:

As a nation, we are a beautiful melting pot of tradition and futurism. We are both contemporary and traditional, creative and formal, soft and hard.

Critically, though, we are less 'attached' than we have ever been. Despite talk of ‘special relationships’, signs are that we are seeking renewed relations with new world powers (China and India) but not at the expense of existing friendships in the US and Europe. As the New World Order sets in, our world-leading creativity and our balance between our heritage and our future positions us perfectly to take advantage. Being 3rd World means that we are unattached, flexible and well positioned for an era of ‘soft power’ (read Monocle’s September issue: At the moment, I’d take 3rd world over 1st or 2nd.

In five – what being 3rd world means for (British) brands:

1. Contemporise your heritage: understand what it is about your brand’s heritage which has potential to be reinvented for contemporary audiences.

2. Embrace subtlety: the New World Order is about soft power and cultural influence so understand how your brand can ‘nudge’ not push.

3. Surprise us: a benefit of being ‘unaligned’ is that it allows you the freedom to choose an innovative path – explore new channels and techniques with abandon.

4. Explore Britishness: look at how Britishness is being redefined through TV, Film, music, fashion, art and design and work out where your brand fits culturally.

5. Draw on other cultures: Britain has a rich history of association with New World economies – be inclusive of diaspora communities and draw on cultural influence in your marketing.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Twitter: the dirty underbelly of influence

So. As part of my mission to explore stuff through the medium of one slide, I wanted to write about how Twitter is changing the face of ‘influence’ and what brands can do to capitalise.

12 months or so spent on Twitter (properly, not fannying around being a spectator: @macka7) and you will discover a fascinating window into the world of influence. Columnists swap and test ideas. Celebrity mates have hungover chats about the night before. Sports stars let slip (KP, of course). Food critics swap notes. Pundit feuds play out (Bacon vs Young, Balding vs Gill). It is the dirty underbelly of influence and it’s at everyone’s fingertips, not just the PRs.

The world of influence has changed. Everyone and his or her dog (or mouse?) is now an Editor and everyone is their own Publicist. The decisions and thinking that used to happen behind closed doors are now played out in public. The editorial filter has given way to the social filter – many of us get our news first from our social network not from the front page of a tabloid or broadsheet. The result is organised chaos. News is shared before it is published and only the stories which most resonate with people emerge from the clutter (check out for news in your area).

In five – the opportunity for brands:

1. Be ahead of the curve: listen to and chat with the right online influencers and you’ll be part of the editorial process before it begins.

2. Be where the buzz is: with the right set of ‘followees’ you can learn what’s hot, what’s not and be part of new trends before anyone else.

3. Be an Editor: turn your brand into a media channel, gathering, editing and distributing relevant content to your employees, followers & fans.

4. Be an influencer: information is power, power is influence so (sparingly) use your privileged brand and industry knowledge to drive your followers’ agenda.

5. Bypass the newsroom: with good contacts and smart news angles, it's possible to seed and soft-sell stories without a more formal approach to media.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

My new look: Slide Issue

For no good reason other than the fact that I seem to (very sadly) spend my working life summarising and recommending stuff in powerpoint, I’ve decided to try to look at one issue or topic every week in a slide, a para or 2 of explanation and 5 things that I think brands can learn. Saves me time, gets to the point quicker and (if anyone out there actually reads this) saves you time. Everyone’s a bloody winner.

I'm calling it 'Slide Issue' and it will basically resemble the inside of my brain…

Monday, 6 September 2010

Super-injunctions, the end of privacy and learning with Wayne.

Tiger Woods. John Terry. Peter Crouch. Wayne Rooney. The ‘Pakistan Four’. The scandals keep on coming. Something is clearly in the air. Indeed with news of other ‘super-injunctions’ in the balance, we can expect more revelations.

And it’s not going to stop. The blogosphere’s ability to evade the law and spread news and gossip and ISP reluctance to act as ‘internet police’ means that we can only expect more. More speculation. More privacy invasion. More ruined reputations.

Indeed, the more they try to hide the more relentlessly they will be pursued by the media, by the blogosphere and by the twitterverse. And this isn’t just true for errant sportsmen, or politicians (Mr Coulson, Mr Hague?) or any other individual for that matter – it’s also true for businesses and brands.

Brands who try to hide stuff are equally vilified. Nike’s use of ‘sweatshops’ was uncovered 10 years ago and people STILL remember: More recently Trafigura’s super-injunction against the Guardian failed to hold due to a combination of Twitter and parliament ( Just two examples, but two which show the hostility which the online environment can inflict on businesses who slip up.

But what can marketers learn from the experiences of our fallen sporting, political and other heroes in this new world of Blogger Activists?

Five rules spring to mind:

1. Don’t think you’re invincible: it’s getting increasingly hard to cover things up – be aware that anything you do that might be deemed ‘ethically dubious’ is more likely to be exposed than not (no one is immune).

2. Know your audience: we expect, nay, admire rock stars who sleep with 10,000 groupies and snort their bodyweight in coke every month but we expect more from our sportsmen and women (and also from our brands).

3. Be authentic: obviously, if this means sleeping with prostitutes and poisoning Africans you should first put your house in order, but brands, businesses (and individuals) who know and live their values are more likely to endure.

4. Be honest: years of witnessing slippery politicians and businessmen trying to hold on to their jobs with tenuous arguments has hardened people, but it has also made them very receptive to the ‘mea culpa’ and the cold, hard truth.

5. Manage expectations: don’t set yourself up for a fall by putting yourself on a pedestal Tiger-style – having flaws is not a bad thing, hiding them to make more money most definitely is.

These 5 rules will not save you if you have a habit of breaking the law or breaking your vows. They will not help you if your moral compass is off kilter. And they will not help if your company gut instinct is to first fire off a ‘Cease and Desist Order'.

But they will help you build a strong reputation and avoid the fury of an instinctively hostile and cynical new media environment.

I leave you with this fantastic drubbing of brands who don’t quite get it (especially on points 2,3 and 5 above), as penned by the great Charlie Brooker (@charltonbrooker).

Sometimes the old (media) ones are still the best: