PR for dummies?

Nicholas Carr who has in the past questioned with some success the value of technology, has again scored a bit of a stir, this time by exploring the impact the Internet is having on the way we think and our ability to concentrate. His article “Is the Internet making us stupid?” is published in Atlantic Magazine. The article uses a mix of anecdotes and new research on the topic and makes a good case. In essence he argues that our brains are adapting to the way the Internet serves up information, making us less interested in long articles and books. His point was well made when I noticed I was skimming through the article…

If we assume Carr is correct, then his point has some important implications for those of us involved with managing perceptions of companies, organizations and individuals. At its simplest level it reinforces the view that information needs to be disseminated in bite size chunks. People will no longer read two page news stories and sadly they will no longer read two page news analyses. Instead they want their information one paragraph at a time. This brings in to question the most basic of PR tools, the press release. The press release has been questioned in recent years. Carr’s article potentially buries the notion of a long press release and calls on companies to create one paragraph news announcements that in turn link to other documents that provide the extended detail.

If you follow this ‘bite sizing’ of communication to its logical conclusion with other PR tools you soon start to see a very different world. What you realize is that companies will soon avoid trying to communicate anything complex and instead find ways of breaking the information down into a series of announcements that people can absorb. Indeed, some companies may find themselves saying remarkably little and instead focusing on get snippets of bad news about their competitors on the Internet.

Aside from testing the ability of PR people to tell stories in seconds rather than minutes, we are also being challenged to create ways for people to get their information that are more rewarding. The very act of web surfing has become tiresome. High speed internet connections, coupled with great search tools mean we get our information on demand. Put another way, there are fewer and fewer gaps between information, giving us less time to think and make sense of the content. The companies that can somehow reverse this trend and allow us time to really absorb information, rather than have it wash over us, will ultimately win. To do this we need to think not simply about the content but also the tools we use to get information across. This is something the advertising industry has already been working on for decades. Indeed they are masters of dealing with short attention spans. I would therefore encourage all PROs to take a long look at the tools this industry uses and see if there are ways PR can be adapted to a SASW (short attention span world). I’d give you some of my own thoughts but I suspect most of you have stopped reading by now and have moved on to another blog…

How green is your FedEx?

Somebody wanted to FedEx a file to me today rather than email it to me even though it was only 8Mb and wasn’t the most important document on the planet. I couldn’t help but wonder how many files like this actually get sent via FedEx, UPS or DHL. I am guessing the number is quite large. Now in many cases it is because people want an original signed copy. My bank in the UK is big on this. I can converse with them via email quite happily but as soon as I want to transfer some money between the UK and the US I have to send a letter. What makes that all the more crazy is that today they emailed me to say they’d received my letter but could I just email them back to confirm what I’d just written to them about… All this bureaucracy must be doing a huge amount of damage to the environment. I wonder how many flights and truck journeys could be saved if a secure, digital transfer mechanism could be agreed that even small businesses and consumers could use so that orginals didn’t need to be sent? Of course I can’t see the likes of FedEx lobbying the government for such a thing as they’ll lose business so maybe it’s the sort of thing the likes of Google and other Internet giants should take up as a sign of their good citizenship.

What does the Pew Study really show?

I just read Nick Carr’s blog on the state of Online News following the Pew Study that came out this week. To cut a fine story short he effectively says that while people have moved to getting their news online they are not necessarily:

a) consuming more news – indeed he suggests that the decline in traditional media consumption is being matched to a degree in the online world
b) about to kill off traditional media – his view from the Pew study is that while this media is declining it is more often than not read by those that consume online news. In other words it will only really die off if everyone stops reading news altogether which seems unlikely.

His piece ends by saying that: “The report is not good news for newspapers, but it does show that the reports of their imminent death have been exaggerated. The real division is not between the audience for online news and the audience for traditional news – they are the same audience. The real division is between the people who are interested in the news and the people who couldn’t care less. In fact, it looks very much like online news media are now merging with traditional news media, as the two come together in a symbiotic relationship to serve the same set of customers. They are not competing with each other so much as they are competing together against nonconsumption.”

I would contend, as I pointed out yesterday in my piece about YouTube, that what the world wants is for the Internet to enable a whole new way to get content. What Online news outlets have done so far is simply ‘automate’ the delivery of content. Perhaps this is why after an initial surge in viewing of online news it too is starting to flatten off and potentially decline. My contention is that this is because there is a distinct lack of innovation taking place in online media (what a generalization I know). Maybe this is what the Pew study is really showing…

AOL – this call was monitored for quality assurance purposes

This is a great example of the power of blogs and one of those rare times when the call was monitored for QA purposes by… the customer. The story is simple: It seems a normal guy wants to do something normal – cancel his AOL account. When he tries, they do what all struggling businesses do, they try and stop him by asking him a million stupid questions. Only in this instance he recorded the conversation and put it on his blog. The story then ended up on CNBC. Seems the rep at AOL lost his job…

State of the Internet

As President Bush stood up to address the nation and those parts of the world that are interested in his views on the State of the American union, my mind quickly turned to other things. Most notably the irritating crashes I had been experiencing a few minutes earlier on a travel web site (which will remain nameless but let’s just say it’s a big one). I thought then about the first time I really started using the Internet using a dial up connection. I remembered the first iteration of MSN and how.. terrible it was. As my mind drifted away from the President and the incessant clapping, I thought about how I use the Internet today versus even five years ago. Like many, I’m now hooked. My Treo has a terrible web capability – but I still use it. I get depressed when I can’t access email and my wife goes insane when instead of using a newspaper I insist on using the Internet to find out what movie’s are playing. For birthdays, holidays etc I use the Net to shop for all those people that are miles away so I don’t need to think about shipping anything. For travel I wouldn’t dream of calling a travel agent unless I was stranded somewhere. Put simply the Net has become a part of my life. I can’t put an absolute percentage on it but my best guess is that at least 50% of my work life involves the Internet and about 10% of my private life. That’s a lot given my parents spent zero time on the Internet when they were my age (for obvious reasons). So did the technology that is changing society even get a mention in the President’s State of the Union speech? I don’t think so, but then I did rather switch off for most of it. I do remember thinking that it was probably a good thing that the government doesn’t have to run the Internet. If they did it would no doubt be heading for bankruptcy by 2052.