Mind map from the first day of Edelman’s PR 2.0 weekend summit in Berlin, 12-14 October can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/markgroves/1566771183/or here:

PR 2.0 summit, Berlin – mind map


The global financial woes that have led to UK bank Northern Rock’s troubles have stimulated the publishing of many moralistic articles such as that by Anthony Hilton in today’s London Evening Standard (“Blame out-of-control bonus system for City’s troubles”).

For readers, the root of the appeal of these attacks is a lack of understanding of how the finance industry works. The result is a high level of mistrust and a disassociation between customers of High Street banks (i.e. most of us) and the foundation of global industry – something that we all have a stake in. That, and the desire to apportion blame…

Ever since reading The Cluetrain Manifesto a few years ago, I’ve been struck by the strand of utopianism that crops up on a regular basis in writings about social media. There’s a belief that we’re heading towards a point where the way that individuals and companies interact will be completely different, where brands are entirely owned by consumers and it’s the voice of the individual that’s all-powerful.

There are many compelling elements to this way of thinking. Empowerment of the individual has a nicely democratic feel to it, and the rise of the global brand in the 20th Century and its demise in the 21st has a satisfying symmetry.

The reality is far more complex.

There’s no doubt that the diverse range of tools that have sprung up under the banner Web 2.0 are having an impact on the way individuals and organisations talk to each other. However, social media should be recognised as only the most recent addition to the many factors – political, social and economic – that are constantly shaping and remaking the communications landscape.

The Harvard Business Review’s list of breakthrough ideas for 2007 includes a contribution from Duncan J. Watts of Columbia University. It details research he and colleague Peter Dodds carried out into the impact that influentials – “a tiny minority of special individuals…who are unusually informed, persuasive or well connected” – have in driving the actions of larger communities.

The pair used computer simulations of populations, manipulating variables relating to people’s ability to influence others and their tendency to be influenced. In contrast to beliefs held by many marketers, the best recipe for spreading influence wasn’t through a small group of influential people. The key factors were the availability and connectedness of many easily influenced people, “just as the size of a forest fire often has little to do with the spark that started it and lots to do with the state of the forest”.

It’s difficult to draw broad conclusions on influencers, as every market where these dynamics are at play has different characteristics. While the study confronts the stereotype of popular kids influencing the clothing brand choices of their peers, it ignores market-specific factors such as the influence that a respected product review blogger has over the purchasing decisions of regular readers.

The author recognises this, asserting that the real value of the study is that it clarifies the point that while “it is almost impossible to generalise from one situation to another…such generalisations are difficult not because of insufficient data but because any focus on individual attributes alone overlooks the importance of network effects”.

All of which makes me glad to be in PR. Understanding influencers means understanding relationships – an attribute that has always been at the heart of the discipline.







On Constantin Basturea’s recommendation, I’ve belatedly read through ‘The Cultural Tribes of Public Relations’ by Greg Leichty of the University of Louisville’s Department of Communication.

Through the liberal application of cultural theory, Leichty posits that there are five main viewpoints within discussion about public relations. These can be summarised as:

  1. Fatalist (a.k.a. Marvin the robot from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) – “PR’s rubbish and doesn’t really have an impact, either on the publics it seeks to influence or within the organisations that it’s part of. It’s just fluff really. Let’s all call it a day and go and find something worthwhile to do with our lives.”
  2. Egalitarian (idle, cynical and representing a depressingly large segment of the general population) – “PR’s evil, man. They’re trying to mess with our brains.”
  3. Hierarchical (the strongest viewpoint in the industry in the UK, coming through particularly loudly from representative bodies like the IPR and the PRCA) – “PR’s an established business discipline that needs to be taken more seriously by senior decision-makers in organisations. The way to get there’s through demonstrating our value with lots of charts and graphs.”
  4. Autonomous Individualist (the information provider, and potentially a journalist’s ideal PR person) – “I’m a helpful PR person, providing updates to journalists when we have product or company news, I’m not too pushy, and try to help out where I can.”
  5. Competitive Individualist (the schmoozer/bluffer) – “Sorry I’m late. I was out last night with Bob, a reporter on XYZ magazine. PR’s all about who you know, not what you know.  That coverage report you were after? Um…”

Ok, so maybe I’ve lost some of the nuances, but it’s still a nice framework to use when looking at blogging on PR.

Most industry blogs tend to come from a hierarchical viewpoint, sometimes with a smattering of the competitive individualist. I guess that’s not surprising, as the fatalists and autonomous individualists wouldn’t be making the effort to blog, and if you’re an egalitarian you’re not too likely to be inside the industry in the first place.

By now you may have noticed that The Daily Telegraph has relaunched its website, which is being pushed by a major billboard ad campaign (which disingenuously suggests that the site is ‘Britain’s No.1 quality newspaper website’, but that’s another story).

Following suit, The Times has relaunched its site today.

In terms of online readership they’re both way behind The Guardian, of course.

A few days ago a lovely, shiny envelope dropped through our letterbox. A long-standing NTL customer, we’ve now been swapped over to the spangly Virgin Media, which is apparently a “brand new entertainment company”.

The language used throughout the documentation is all painfully hip, going so far as to include a terms & conditions pamphlet entitled “Boring (but important) stuff for you to read”. It feels like the voice of the school teacher trying to be credible with the kids – “I know it’s a drag Jimmy, but you really can’t smoke in class”.

And as for those terms & conditions… My second favourite is B. 3. d):

“You accept that your telephone number must not be advertised in or on a public telephone box. If this happens, we may immediately suspend the services or end this agreement. However, we will use reasonable endeavours to contact you before we take action.”

Whatever could they be alluding to? There’s no similar proviso for toilet cubicles though, so I guess that’s ok. The bit about “reasonable endeavours” is quite sweet though.

Speaking of reasonable, pride of place goes to D. 5):

“If a set-top box or a cable modem forms part of the equipment, you should take reasonable steps to make sure that, while it is not in use, the electricity supplied to it is not turned off and that it is in standby or rest mode (unless we advise you otherwise).”

Does “reasonable steps” mean I should be looking into some kind of generator in case of power cuts?

It’s pretty brave to see Virgin take a stance against all this poppycock about global warming though – a contractual obligation NOT to turn off something even when you aren’t using it. That really is going against the flow. I wonder if they know something we don’t? Maybe Richard Branson’s given up on the planet already – he does seem suspiciously interested in space travel.

My del.icio.us

June 2018
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