Wall Street doesnt like the iPad but consumers will

Wall Street analysts have cast doubt on the potential success of the iPad, marking down the stock after its high profile launch. The criticisms seem to center on its price of between $500 and $850. It is seen as simply too expensive for most consumers despite its obvious appeal. I think these analysts underestimate the sheer love customers have for all things Apple. They are probably right that the product is a few hundred dollars too much but I doubt that will prevent too many customers from buying. Just take a look on eBay at how much people are willing to pay for an unlocked iPhone and you’ll see that Apple has the ability to command a sizeable price premium. In other words logic is on the side of the analysts but consumers can be horribly illogical. Get ready for lines to appear at your local Apple store when the product actually arrives…

Do PR agencies need to be global?

Big, global companies like to choose big, global agencies. There are good reasons for doing this. There’s consistency of approach, consistency of message and procurement gets to weigh in on contract terms. There’s also that comfort factor of using a ‘big firm’ that makes sure chief marketing or communications officers feel safe. But is bigger and more global really better? As someone who worked to build a global PR agency, I know that global can be great. I also know that many clients embrace global for the wrong reasons. I also know that many of the global agencies are far from connected and offer very little in terms of real value to their customers.

If bigger isn’t better then why don’t people use a network of agencies? Well of course some do and many of them get great results. But the choice is increasingly being made harder as social media and other forces change the way markets operate. Audiences are no longer defined by geographies so why should communications campaigns be? I recall some at Apple telling me that on iTunes they watch communities that are driven by what styles of music they like, not where they are from. This is the future of marketing as our tastes and needs become a function of what values we have and not which country we are from. This is in essence then a series of global communities, rather than a series of countries.

So, how many agencies are ready for that world? The answer is very few. The small local agencies are trapped by their geography and the larger firms are trapped by their business models. That said, building the ‘new global agency’ isn’t easy. The biggest hurdle is getting clients to agree to invest their PR spend on audiences/communities regardless of where these people live. This is tough when PR dollars are driven by local sales. The other challenge is doing the research to prove these communities really exist and are valuable. That is in itself non-trivial. In other words it is a brave client that shifts its spend away from geographies to communities. Until that happens, we are likely stuck with the existing model.

So what is global PR anyway? Well the truth is ‘global’ is often very un-global. I’ve yet to hear of global meaning every country in the world. I’ve yet to see a client that really lets ideas from anywhere in the world drive new campaigns. I’ve yet to see a client that really drives local implementation and measurement to be consistent. Global usually means about 10 big countries. It means a common template and font for plans and reports and it means some themes are shared. In other words global, for most, is really more regional at best. So if global really isn’t global, why again to clients like the idea? Because the idea is a great one and sounds so… smart. I’m not saying clients trying to make their PR global are stupid. I think many are well intentioned. However, I do believe that global is for the most part a myth. There are agencies that run global programs and do it really well, Text 100 and Bite for example (shameless plug). But I’d really encourage clients to think hard before pushing a global RFP. What they will likely end up with is a firm that is faceless and a series of campaigns that are bland and lack impact. Instead, I’d encourage them to think about the perception they want to build, who is key to that and the programs that will drive these people to embrace that perception. That may mean hiring a global firm or it may just mean hiring a really smart boutique that really gets it and doesn’t mind traveling.

Can PR firms survive without traditional media?

In the last year news about traditional media has been all bad.  Circulations of newspapers and magazines are dropping like stones and TV networks are struggling to attract viewers. Much of this decline has been blamed on the emergence of the Internet as an alternative way for people to spend their time.  So with traditional media getting ever smaller, competition for space increases (given the number of companies who want to be on the cover of a magazine doesn’t decline), yet the value of that space also declines as it is seen by fewer people.  This all suggests that agencies who rely on traditional media are going to really struggle.  But in truth I don’t know an agency that does rely on traditional media anymore.  When you think about that it’s amazing that our industry has undergone such change in such a shot time.

Given this situation you may come to the conclusion that traditional media no longer matters and that any smart PR business will plan for it being a tiny fraction of its revenue in the coming years.  This is where I take issue.  I think traditional media is like many other businesses that for a long time had no apparent rival and then all of a sudden they wake up and realize that they are in danger of going out of business because of some rival that simply crept up on them.  But like most of those businesses they start to re-invent themselves AND a new natural equilibrium emerges.  I think we are still searching for that equilibrium right now but I’m convinced it will come.  Traditional media isn’t going to disappear it is going to evolve.  Plus there will become a point when a hard core audience will emerge that is much harder to erode.  I think we are still some way form that point but within the next few years I believe we’ll get there.

I predict we’ll get to a place where we have a smaller traditional media but one that is no longer traditional.  The essence of traditional is largely the way the media is delivered.  Newspapers are delivered daily, news shows air at certain times etc.  Thanks to DVRs and the Internet the delivery mechanism has been challenged and largely destroyed.  That leaves the other mainstay of the traditional media world: content.  Traditional media is guided by largely unwritten rules about the way its content is generated.  In the case of news there is an expectation that that news will be accurate.  We don’t always have the same expectations of news that appears on social media sites though.  Equally, traditional news has always been a one way dialog.  Now that’s changing, with many online news sites encouraging feedback and comment.  In other words traditional media is embracing social media tools to stem the tide of readers departing.  But you guys all know this.  So why am I writing this?  Well I guess I want to make the point that we are in a content and distribution war in which the best content with the best distribution will win.  In that world there is no reason why traditional media has to lose, it simply has to adapt AND accept that people have a lot more choice than they did ten years ago.  That means they’ll never have the circulations, viewerships or listeners they once did.  Instead they’ll have to take a share of people’s attention.  But as we all know, one ‘share’ can be a lot more valuable than another.

These are horrible days for traditional media and its likely that it will go through a LOT more pain and change before it hits bottom.  But I’m convinced it will hit bottom and when it does find its role, PR will find it still has a very important partner.  So don’t abandon traditional media just yet!

Companies walk the fine line on Haiti with PR

As the terrible news unfolds about the earthquake in Haiti, companies are trying to figure out how they can help but also how they can get credit for helping.  I’ve talked to several clients on this subject and they all raise the same challenge:  how do we get credit for the help we give without it coming across as though we are only helping so that we get some positive press.  The reality is of course that good companies won’t try and exploit a disaster to get attention.  Good companies will do the right thing and if in doing the right thing people notice, then all well and good.  I know that many PROs will be encouraged to try and get people to notice the good things being done to help the people of Haiti but I for one would prefer to all the effort go in to helping people rather than into publicity.  Now if publicity in turn helps people by making more people give money or time then go get that publicity.  In other words make your relief efforts genuine and not a thinly veiled advert for the company.

When Katrina struck, a poster child for good action was WalMart.  They loaded trucks with basic goods and drove to the region.  They didn’t send out a press release telling people.  Truly good acts don’t go unnoticed.  Sometimes it takes time for people to notice but notice they will and word of mouth will eventually make sure people find out.  I’ve already noticed that major online brands such as Google, Amazon and eBay have links on their homepages so you can help the people in Haiti. Interestingly though I can’t find a major offline brand that has a similar link.  There’s no good reason I can see for that. Follow Google’s link for example and it tells you how you can donate.  It doesn’t tell you what Google is doing itself.  There’s no reason why Ford, Bank Of America, Coca Cola, Next Fifteen or anyone else couldn’t do the same…

At the end of the day, good corporate social responsibility boils down to:  Doing what’s right and doing what you can.

Why don’t single client agencies work?

WPP finally gave up on Enfatico, the agency they set up solely to support Dell and have effectively folded it in to C&W.  Enfatico joins a long list of single client agencies to fail.  Why do these agencies fail when, on the surface at least, they offer such obvious benefits to a client?  Before I get in to the reasons why they fail, let me first list the potential benefits of these firms:

1.  These agencies can REALLY get to understand a client’s business

2.  These agencies are not distracted by other clients or new business

3.  These agencies can hire the team that best suits the client’s challenges

4.  These agencies can easily run a single methodology across the globe

5.  These agencies are easy to measure as there’s only one thing to build the measurement around

So with all these benefits why do they fail?  Here are the reasons:

1.  Staff who work at agencies don’t want to just work on one client forever so you are bound to get high turnover at all levels

2.  One of the key advantages of agencies is that they get to bring fresh perspective and insight BECAUSE they work with multiple clients.  In about a year sole client agencies become stale

3.  Sole client agencies are essentially just an in-house team that has been outsourced.  Why bother?

4.  Sole client agencies only work if the budgets are huge.  Otherwise you have staff on the account that are either underutilized or are forced to work on tasks they’re not ideally suited to, to fill their time.

I think it’s a shame these agencies don’t work as I can see the appeal and like to see innovation in our industry.  So far though the cons always seem to outway the pros.  Enfatico RIP.

Can Apple stay focused?

I spent some time in the Palo Alto Apple store yesterday.  My eldest daughter was playing with a raft of different products from laptops, to ipods and iphones and of course all the various accessories.  Standing in the midst of the store I became aware of just how many products Apple is now selling and the list seems destined to grow.  Now imagine the store as a metaphor for what the average consumer can associate with and you can easily see that as the product range expands their ability to maintain strong associations with products diminishes.  Pretty soon Apple is meant to launch some kind of tablet which will take up yet more shelf or table space.

As someone that loves the quality of the Apple products and admires the brand, I worry that this ‘growth’ mentality could be a dangerous path.  Some companies are able to run large product lines because their products are designed to reach different audience segments and we understand that as consumers.  But Apple’s brand has been built around the idea that we all want all of their products and they’ve actually done a pretty good job of selling that brand.  I for example have an iPod, iPhone, iMac, Apple TV and a MacBook Pro.  I’ve also got countless Apple accessories and chargers.  At some point though the list has to stop.  As a consumer I don’t want yet more products.  I want fewer that span the gamut.  Apple in its recent incarnation (Steve 2.0) has done an amazing job of only launching products that are really needed.  Few products seem to have struggled – the Apple TV and the Mac Air seem the notable exceptions, while the iMac iPod, iPhone and iTouch have been huge successes.  If Steve was 100% well I wouldn’t raise these concerns.  But we all know that Steve is not devoted to Apple in the way he was before his illness and that at some point he’ll take a huge step back.  When that happens I worry that Apple will miss his iron grip on the company’s product strategy and that inferior products will be launched and Apple will be right back where it was before Steve returned.

Next time you are in an Apple store, try and imagine that they’ve launched four major new products and still have all the current product range.  You will quickly start to wonder how they can fit everything in without making the stores much bigger.  FYI rumors are rife that Apple is going to take a much bigger space in Palo Alto and open a new flagship store (click link).  Does this suggest their solution to the product proliferation problem is simply to take on more space?  I sincerely hope not.

Why should companies use PR agencies?

Why should companies use PR agencies?

This may seem an obvious question, yet I’m amazed how often I hear it being asked.  For as long as I can remember, which is sadly quite a long time, the main arguments have been (here come the bullet points):

  • Agencies can provide external counsel – they will give you a perspective that you can’t see from within the company.  How often clients are prepared to take this counsel varies and is a measure of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ client.
  • Agencies act for many clients and thus unearth opportunities that in-house staff wouldn’t.  For example while talking to a reporter about a news story they can sell in another client who may offer another angle.  Reporters like this as it saves them time and that’s why reporters often also like agencies.
  • Agencies offer clients flexibility in terms of resources.  This flexibility is not limited simply to the amount of people who can be thrown at a task but also the skill set.  For example, clients don’t necessarily need certain areas of senior counsel every day, or even every week.  Agencies give them access to the talent they need when they need it.
  • Agencies bring new thinking to the mix.  Agencies see the new ways PR is being practiced by virtue of the fact that they act for multiple clients.  So when a new approach or idea gets tried for one client, others quickly benefit.  Now of course some clients may not like to think their ideas are being used elsewhere but we all know even when an idea is re-used in PR it takes on a whole different look and feel.
  • Agencies actually cost less.  Well not always but they are rarely more expensive when compared to say having a large internal team at a big company.  That said few companies seem to really make a sensible comparison here.  The total cost of an agency needs to be compared with not only the salaries of staff you hire but all the other ancillary costs that come with having an in-house team such as the office space, HR and IT support, training etc etc.

Now of course there are advantages to being in-house also which is why the most successful PR campaigns tend to bring together a strong internal team with a good agency.  Of course that’s not always an option, especially for a smaller company.  At that level having a hungry, aggressive agency is always the way to go.  Especially if you can find one that will fill your slides with bullet points ;).

Do trade shows still make sense?

Let me be clear – I’m one of those people that hates trade shows.  I’m not good at small talk, I hate all the hassle of trade shows, the lines, the crappy gifts, wearing a name tag etc etc.  Indeed I hate them so much that I’ve been predicting their death for years.  Yet as the big consumer electronics (CES) show gets underway in Las Vegas  this week, it’s clear that these trade shows have a role in their industries.  They create a deadline by which companies have to make decisions, they create meeting places where collaboration on future projects start; and they create a showcase for the introduction of products both good and bad.  In short they are a good way of getting people to pull their fingers out and get stuff either done or started.

In general I know the trade show business has been through years of decline.  Apple doesn’t even attend Mac World anymore and once famous shows like COMDEX have vanished.  For those of you who weren’t around for the COMDEX madness, hotel rooms were like gold dust and cab lines in Vegas were routinely over an hour long.  But they did have great parties.  Even without shows like COMDEX there are still plenty of major shows around.  What seems to happen is that someone either evolves the content of the show or the format (or both) to stay in lock step with the way the industries they serve are evolving.  That said it is somewhat inevitable that trade shows will get smaller.  With social media tools now so prevalent, many of use don’t need to attend the show to get the news and feel like we were there.  Indeed the only part we really miss is the networking.  And let’s be honest, not much truly valuable networking takes place at these shows that couldn’t take place elsewhere.

I therefore confidently, without any hesitation whatsoever, formally predict that trade shows will carry on existing.  They’ll just be different from the way they are today.  How’s that for a stunning prediction?  More seriously though I think the really successful shows will be smaller and more focused and their format will evolve in ways it’s hard to imagine today.    COMDEX crashed and burned after it opened itself up to the public.  That turned the show from a must attend event into a must avoid event.  At the same time conferences such as TED and D appear to be flourishing.  This shows that people still crave the content and the connections.  They simply want to consume them in a smaller, more exclusive environment.

Trade shows are by definition, for the trade.  So unless your trade is so big that you really do need 200,000 people to attend your show, then an event that pulls in a small fraction of that number seems destined to be a better route.  Long live the specialist, awfully small trade show, that I’m not invited to.

PR agencies are obsessed with bullet points

Look at a PR plan from a PR agency and it will have lots of bullet points.  There will be three key messages displayed as bullets.  There will be three or four key strategies displayed as bullets. There will be a dozen tactics displayed as.. you guessed it.  And so it goes on.  Why the obsession with lists and bullets?  In part because it makes it easier for people to read but mainly because.. well that’s how everyone does it.  But why?  Why are we so obsessed with having these lists?  I may be having a senior moment here, if so please just ignore me but I’m starting to believe that PR agencies lack some serious self confidence. Why do I think this?  Well here are some reasons:

1.  We should have the confidence to have a really great creative idea that marries insight with a perfect message and which naturally lends itself to a tightly defined set of tactics and metrics.  In other words we shouldn’t always need some back up, some other idea just in case the first one fails to get the client excited.  In other words there need not be a number 2.  Now I appreciate that software applications like Word and PowerPoint love bullet points or lists but they’d get used to people not pushing that button I’m sure.

Take a look at that PR plan you wrote for 2010 and ask yourself if you really do need all those messages, strategies, tactics and metrics.  If the answer is ‘yes’ then either you wrote a really insightful or really bad plan.

What if Apple’s new tablet was also a video conferencing device?

Before I get any further I should say that I believe 2010 is going to be the year where video trumps voice as a way to communicate. But back to this post – Rumors are rife about Apple’s next major product.  The common view seems to be that they’ll unveil a larger iTouch/iPhone that will blow away the Kindle and create a whole new way for people to view a range of rich content (newspapers, magazines, videos, TV content).  But what if this device was also a way to do video conferencing?  People already use their iMac etc to Skype or iChat their friends and colleagues but this technology isn’t perfect.  Apple is the kind of company that could integrate some form of video capability in to a device that made it far simpler.  Take the current iPhone screen shown here.  It wouldn’t be hard to see them add a button for video.  I’m a huge fan of video conferencing in a world where people spend far too much time interacting via emails and text messages.  I’d personally love it if Apple opened up the market.  Now of course there are whole bunch of structural challenges that come with that.  AT&T is already being beaten up about its poor coverage in markets such as New York and San Francisco.  It’s therefore likely that they’d need to provide video services  via a wifi connection and that would make it a touch more challenging.  But it could be done.  Years ago, British Telecom ran an advert with the tagline: “It’s good to talk.”  Maybe Apple can replace that with: “it’s good to see you.”