Monthly Archives: September 2009

Star Wars dressing gown

That’s my Christmas pressie sorted then. Wifey, are you listening?

Ten marketing rules for all small businesses

I've done some work in the past with a fella called Nick Gregory. Actually, my wife's done more during their time together at Oracle and MediaSurface. Nick's a very smart marketing guy and now runs his own consultancy, Market Accelerator

He's just posted his ten marketing rules for emerging enterprise software vendors. Nick's focus is IT, but I think the same rules could apply to pretty much any small and growing business. The rules are great and very much like Nick himself: straight-talking, pragmatic and focused on the result.

Here’s a funny/cool little site…

…that Gabbi came across. It’s called Xtranormal and, put very simply (because it’s very simple) it’s a site where you can make little animated films simply by typing the script and dragging a few camera angle changes, expressions and actions where you want them.

When Gabbi found it, he was looking for something to use as a script so, bless him, he took the nine point plan to the perfect PR pitch and made this little film. OK, so it’s a bit amateurish but as a quick and easy way of turning the written word into something more dynamic, it’s pretty damn cool.
I was looking at the site over the weekend and, as you’d imagine, kids love it. Here’s a film that I made with my two. Hilarious.

Stop the PR pitch madness, part II…the nine point plan

So the post on Tuesday stirred up a neat little discussion. I was thinking that while it's obviously easy to sit back and say what might be broken with a process, it's also important to propose an alternative. So I thought I'd play client for half an hour, and try and work out how I'd go about selecting an agency in my perfect little theoretical world (though – and despite my flippant remark – you could do worse than read Gabbi's summary of the Winning Without Pitching Manifesto in the comments).

First off, for me to say that pitches should be banned was, of course, rather provocative. But I've found that being a bit provocative can be what encourages people to contribute… We need some way to sell ourselves, whether it's called a pitch or not. My issue is with what agencies are asked to pitch.

So, here we go. I'm a PR manager looking for a new agency. First off, I do my own research – speak to a few peers, perhaps, or journalists, contact an industry association, surf the web…you know the sort of thing. I reckon I should be able to narrow down a list of four that I'm going to ask to meet. Let's get in touch.

Hi,

I'm the PR manager of Les Chapelles Holidays, and I'm looking for a new PR agency. I've drawn up a shortlist of four agencies and you're company is one of them. As such, I'd like to meet.  This is what I'd like to propose:

1. I'll come to you if that's OK? I'd like to see your offices.

2. I'm only planning on meeting each agency once in the selection process, but would like a three hour meeting in the afternoon (the reasons for which will become clear a little later).

3. I'm presuming you'll do your research, so you'll be able find out lots about our business from our website, coverage search, social media analysis, etc etc. If you have any specific questions, however, feel free to drop me a line.

4. I'm not giving you a brief, because I'm not asking you to pitch me creative ideas and a communications strategy. I'm a forward-thinking guy, and (a) don't believe that you'll be able to get under our skin enough in the next fortnight to develop a decent strategy or associated tactics and (b) I respect that your strategic nouse and creativity are valuable, and I should really be paying for them.

5. When I come in, I'd like to meet the team of people that you would foresee working on the account. I think you'll be able to assess who those people might be from your research on our business, and our budget is currently about £10k a month, so I reckon I'll be meeting four or five people (and if there's more than one director in the room, I'll smell a rat). It'd be great if each of them could give me a five-minute precis of their experience, role and the piece of work of which they're most proud. I'd also like to know their favourite band and cocktail of choice.

6. I'd like you to present comprehensive agency credentials. Agency history, client base, key areas of expertise and anything else you feel would be relevant. I'd also like to see three case studies of work you've done for clients that you think are relevant to our business area. I'd expect these to include the business challenge, strategy you developed, tactics you implemented and the results generated. I'd also like the people in the room to have worked on the case studies, because I might have questions.

7. I'm going to test you guys out with an exercise that will take about an hour. It'll be challenging but fun, and will give me the chance to see how you guys work together (and with me).

8. I'd like to take contact details for three client references away with me.

9. After we've had the meeting, can we go to the pub for an hour or so? I'm buying.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Mark

Now, I'm sure I've missed a few things out – and would welcome suggestions for additions and tweaks – but how refreshing an email would that be to get? I think every agency contacted would be keen to win the business, I know I would. And I think I'll have gathered enough information about the agencies' expertise, resources, people, passion and abilities to make a decision.

Or am I wrong?

Stop the PR pitch madness

Last week, when Confused.com decided to pay some of the losing agencies in its pitch process for the ideas that they came up with, the company was roundly applauded by the PR industry. "At last," people cried, "a recognition that creative ideas are valuable." Fair enough. Clive at Bite wants to know how you put a price on a great idea, rightly pointing out that the value of a brilliant piece of creative will likely outstrip the two minutes in the shower it took to come up with it. I know for a fact, for instance, that Marmite's 'Love it or hate it' strapline was the result of a five minute stationery cupboard meeting between an advertising executive and a 22-year old intern (that's a complete lie, by the way).

Of course, it might have been nice for Confused.com's Kelly Davies to offer to pay agencies before the pitches took place, but then of course she wouldn't have known whether they'd come up with any decent ideas would she? And you know agencies…lazy buggers would have gone through the motions and just picked up the cash.

If nothing else, the novelty of Confused.com's action serves to highlight how happy the PR industry still is to give away what should be its most valuable assets: creative and strategic thinking. It really should stop, but when even the biggest, most successful firms haven't got the bollocks to change things, it won't.

Imagine this scenario (hypothetical, before Kevin McCloud gets all excited). I want to get a new house built, so I'll need an architect. I do some research online…talk to people who've had houses built…maybe even get in touch with the Royal Institute of British Architects (or, more likely, the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Architectes). Having done that, I'll have a list of a handful that I'll meet. At those meetings they'll show me some of the houses that they've built previously, give me some references, show me their professional qualifications and I'll tell them a bit about what I'm after.

Now, what do you think will happen if, after these meetings, I pick my three favourite architects (let's call this my 'shortlist') and ask them all to come back in, oooh, 10 days' time and show me the plans for my new house? That's right, the fully worked up and costed plans…plus a timeline that they'll commit to. I imagine my brief would have been OK…I'd like four bedrooms, big kitchen, double-garage, playroom for the kids and an en-suite…so I'd have thought any architect worth her salt would be able to hit the nail on the head first time, wouldn't she?

No? Sir Norman Foster said what?! What sort of language is that for a Knight of the Realm to use..?

The thing is or course, I wouldn't expect that to happen because I'm bright enough to know that to get the plans I want…to get the house of my dreams…is going to take a while longer.

And yet this is what clients ask PR agencies to do all the time. And before we all happily sit back and point the finger at those unreasonable clients, they do it because PR agencies are happy to respond. This merry dance takes two.

Funny thing is, how many times have you heard an existing client say, "we should start next year's planning as early as possible…give ourselves the time to get the strategy right, define the positioning, come up with some really strong creative…"? 

Yes, we should. So why when we pitched for this account did you force us to do the same job in a week and a half?

Pitches can be incredibly distracting and stressful for the people involved. So, Mr Client, when we win your business through a stressful and distracting process, will you be happy when your new account team becomes equally stressed and distracted when the next pitch comes along? Thought not.

Pitches should be banned. Agencies should get much better at presenting credentials and references and have the confidence to decline to pitch valuable creative ideas that in the main (and even if you win, for crying out loud!) you're almost certain not to get paid for.

If a client can't decide on which agency to use based on reputation, experience, previous work, references, team…without needing to know exactly 'what you would do for us'…then they're an idiot, frankly, and shouldn't be in the job.

The lost art of the holiday handover

Mobile technologies and the 'always connected' society bring innumerable benefits, there's no doubt. But they have their downsides too…mainly due to the fact that we're, umm, always connected. People moan about it, but we're our own worst enemies. The lost art of the holiday handover is a great example.

When I were a lad, before I was senior enough to qualify for any mobile technology (and, let's be honest, it was still a time when mobile phones were the preserve of the wealthy and mobile email a mere pipe dream) when you left work for your holiday your final task before leaving…generally undertaken as cleaners were collecting coffee cups and negotiating their way around the office with hoovers…was to write a comprehensive handover document for your team. This was your opportunity to either (a) show how efficient you'd been in getting all your actions done before taking a well-earned break or (and in my case far more likely) (b) dumping all your crappy work on someone else for a fortnight.

Nowadays, people find it much more easy to say…"I haven't done a handover doc, but I'll have the mobile and will check email now and then so if anything serious crops up, do give me a call…"

Being connected has made us lazy. I'm as guilty as the next. More so, probably. Hell, when I recently left the permanent employ of a big PR company I even told members of the team that they could call me if they had any questions about stuff I'd been involved in…

The only people that handovers are still done effectively are the more junior members of the team; those yet to be armed with smartarsephones. They probably enjoy their holidays more too.

Badge engineering at its worst

asus_lam_1Badge engineering is a phrase used in the motor industry…it describes attempts to make a duff car more attractive by sticking a racier badge on it. OK, so in some cases it’s more than aesthetic and some genuine engineering is involved (think McLaren Mercedes) but not in all (think MG Metro).

The Asus Lamborghini is, to my mind, a pretty cynical attempt to sex up the dull PC. The flimsiness of the proposition is reflected in the guff on the Micro Anvika website. Check this out:

“With poetic precision and atelier craftsmanship, the ASUS-LAMBORGHINI VX5 is a fitting tribute to the LAMBORGHINI Reventón. It is the superlative of avant garde design, one that triggers the primeval senses for exhilaration and power.”

Christ.

Thing is, I’m sure it’s a very good PC, so why try and dress it up with a Lamborghini badge?

Funnily enough, having bought a MacBook a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been holding forth on the whole PC vs. Mac debate over on the Edelman Tech blog. Another case of the PC world trying its hardest to be cool and in doing so looking like the geek in Prada shades?

Sarkozy height row “grips France’

The BBC might be over-stating things a touch in the “gripping France” claim, but it’s all rather amusing nonetheless: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8243486.stm

From The Cool Hunter – Kiddimoto – Easy Riders

I’m all for getting kids on bikes as soon as possible, and I reckon these would capture the imagination of any little ‘un (well, particularly little lads). Beautiful.

Let’s not make a drama out of a mid-life crisis…

It's my 40th birthday today. A good time to reflect. Excuse the self-indulgence.

I guess when you get to 40 it's easy to start thinking that you're about half way through (given a fair wind). I'm not seeing it like that. 

I've kind of packed up my childhood, adolescence and education – incredibly enjoyable as it all was – and filed it under 'formative years' (or something like that). I started my professional life just 16 years ago; so as far as I see it that's when responsible, independent adulthood really started. On that basis, therefore, I'm maybe only about a third of the way through (with that fair wind). Sounds better, no?

I'm starting a new phase in my professional life and I'm hugely excited about it. I've got more working years to complete than I've already been through, so I should be able to get quite a lot done, particularly as I should be learning less and doing more (though I hope I never stop learning). And that bodes well, because I'm pretty happy with what I've achieved in the last 16 years.

I've formed a career in a stimulating industry and met loads of interesting and inspiring people along the way. I've made a decent living, manage to put some away for the future and spent a fair bit on some brilliant experiences and things. I've met a girl, moved in with her, bought property, married and had two brilliant, vibrant and healthy kids. We've moved to a beautiful part of France, live in a nice house and have created a successful little holiday business

I have some simply fantastic friends. Really, they're the best. 

I get to ride my bike in some stunning scenery with good mates and raise cash for very worthy charities. I've enjoyed good health so far (touch wood) and I'm not in bad shape for a 40 year old. I've still got most of my own hair. 

I'm happy. I'm really very happy.

The future is full of opportunity. Sure, there are things that I'm concerned about and there'll be ups and downs, but I feel able to meet the challenges ahead. I hope you do too.

Onwards.
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