Friday, January 30, 2009

Internet Blackout Matches Victoria's Power Blackout

In Friday 30 January it was very hot in Canberra. Well into the evening the temperature was hovering around 82 degrees F.

But to the south, Melbourne was far, far hotter and the City was suffering significant power shortages as the overloaded power grid struggled to meet the electricity demands generated by the heat. Melbourne's rail service ground to a halt under a combination of the heat and the power outages.

A significant part of the City was affected by power cuts. And at least on 30 January the power blackout was matched by an Internet blackout.

Only two of the five power utilities servicing Melbourne had up to date outage information on their websites. Well done to those two - Jemena and SP AUSNET. For the others, well it was business as usual.

The Victorian Government Internet portal carried dated information. And the websites of the Victorian Police and the State's Emergency Service had no current news on the outages.

Although local newspapers and other media carried news, key corporate and government websites were strangely silent on an event that impacted on so many people including concerned relatives like me in other States.

Victoria gets a "could do better" grade for its effort to use the online communications to keep Melbournians updated on what was happening in their sweltering off-line world.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Media Maven's Methods

US media maven Margo Mateas has been in the communications business for 20+ years and in that time has trained thousands of PR professionals in media pitching and other skills.

An ill-considered blogpost recently attacked the maven's methods.

We can only speak from our experience. But using Margo's methods we have been able to achieve over 7000 media items for Australian clients with almost universally high favourability ratings.

In 2008 working alongside the media team of a major Australian cultural institution we helped the institution reach a cumulative media audience of 56 million people for one of its programs.

I review Margo's materials before I start each campaign to remind myself of the essentials of media relations.

So thanks to Margo for her ability to take people behind the newsroom curtain and learn effective skills that get their stories covered.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

PR2.0 Book Review

"PR2.0 New Media, New Tools, New Audiences" by Deirdre Breakenridge

Is this evolution or revolution?

Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Twitter, Slideshare and a host of other social media tools are changing the way we communicate. And doing so rapidly.

Which leaves PR professionals looking similar to 19th century pioneers. We’re leaving the familiar world of brochures, media releases and other one way tools to travel the plains in search of the promised land of digital communications. We don’t know how long the journey will be or where we will finally settle. But as communicators we instinctively know there’s no turning back because things will never again be the same.

And for those who continue to doubt, look at Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign. It firmly put the seal of legitimacy on new media as a mass medium.

Fortunately US author Deirdre Breakenridge has written a book to help us find our way around this new frontier.

Her book PR2.0 is a valuable reference for communicators who need to understand new media, how to use it and how to integrate what we’re doing now with what we may be doing in the future. It offers a balanced view of social media but settles on a firm conclusion. New media’s ability for us to go one on one with our audiences means we live in the most exciting of PR times.

Most books on the subject either deal in generalities or descend into tech babble. This book does neither. It is written by a PR person for PR people and covers the things we need to know for our campaigns and projects. It starts with sections on digital research, monitoring and evaluation before dealing with new tools and applications such as social media releases, RSS feeds, blogs, video and audio.

Every chapter has blessedly simple explanations of the new technologies and features interviews with companies using it to good effect. Each concludes with a bullet point summary which is handy when so much rich information is presented.

The later chapters deal with planning for PR.2.O with valuable case studies showing how companies are using social media tools right now to get results. You could easily develop a template from these examples.

PR2.0 is a must-have reference for PR people. Get it, read it and keep it handy besides your desk or in your briefcase. It’s more than a book. It is a road map to the next PR destination.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Polish Up Your Presentations

We run a lot of workshops most of which are based around PowerPoint presentations.

Over the years we have found that the best presentations are simple and highly visual. So our top tips for preparing and using slides are:
  • Use a neutral background in each presentation and avoid fancy templates which too easily distract an audience.
  • Work with a single font that contrasts strongly with the background. (We opt for a plain black background with white text). And don't be too fancy with italics and bold type.
  • Avoid straight text. Aim for no more than six simply expressed bullet points per slide.
  • Custom animation is a great tool but go easy on all the fancy fly-in effects that can leave the audience dizzy.
  • Include a title on each individual slide so people can see the big picture of what you are talking about.
  • Use an image on each slide to reinforce the message you are making. Make sure it complements and does not overshadow the meaning of the text.
  • Develop your presentation so you speak directly to the audience and not read from a screen.
  • Use a remote control device plugged into your laptop or computer that allows you to change slides from anywhere in the room. (These are readily available and don't cost much).
And post your presentation to a social networking site such as Slide Share so people can access it after you leave. Either post it permanently or tell your audience it is only available for a limited time.

But above all avoid the common mistakes shown in this humourous video.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Twitter Triumphs

Twitter is the new media application that lets you communicate to friends and followers in 140 character bursts via the computer, mobile phone or blackberry. It's a great way to keep in touch or unless you're careful waste time.

I'm planning an article on social media and local governments and used my Twitter connections to find two case studies (both NSW Councils).

So who else uses Twitter? Thanks to US based blogger Paul Dunay here's a list of CEOs and other top US executives on Twitter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our Non-Prediction Predictions for 2009

It's that time in the calendar when pundits and commentators rush out their marketing and PR predictions for the coming year. But do all their wise words mean much ... really?

After January who reads these predictions anyway? By the following December is there anyone who remembers them? And how do the rest of us hold the punditocracy accountable for what they said at the start of the year?

But for all that, it is legitimate to comment on trends likely to affect how we communicate to our communities during uncertain times.

So here's my non-prediction predictions for 2009: the factors that will influence how we reach out to one another:
  • Firstly these will be the very best of times to communicate. Whatever your status as a communicator, today and tomorrow you will have more tools than ever to engage your audiences. The potential to go beyond traditional information gatekeepers and production processes to get your message out is simply incredible. Social media is the genie which can grant your communications wishes and in the past two years that genie has jumped from the bottle. New media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc may not be around forever but one thing is certain. In the aggregate they are perceptibly changing the way we relate to each other. They have put us well and truly in pioneer territory, and although we may not be able to see the new communications landscape, there's no turning back from here on in.
  • Paradoxically these will also be the worst of times to communicate. Two issues - the financial crisis and global warming - will dominate our conversations into the foreseeable future. Both are incredibly difficult to understand, harder yet to explain and the solutions to them are a good way off and far from clear. Yet every significant issue you and I wish to raise, may at some point be benchmarked against these two stories because together they define our times.
  • The future looks set to place a premium on leaders as communicators. In tough times people look to those in authority to provide explanations and point the way ahead. Yet few hierarchical figures in our organisations are good communicators. And even fewer are good at motivating those around them. It is never too late to instill in our managers and others the imperative of communicating well and give them the skills for that difficult but important job.
  • During the good times our societies are often individualistic and materialistic. But the high fliers and big names of the financial and business worlds have left the scene leaving precious little to show for their much lauded efforts of previous years. In tough times either we act together or we fail to act. Hopefully a sense of community and common purpose will return to our communities where a person's public value is marked by their contribution to the greater good rather than how much they earn. The rush to be seen to be green and corporate social responsibility may have already laid the foundations for this shift to authentic communications and commitment to communities.
Only two things are clear from this vantage point. No-one and nothing is certain. And our surest course is to communicate with integrity.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Watch Out For These Things In '09

Watch out for these three marketing issues in the coming year.
  • Act and communicate green. People automatically expect organisations to be environmentally conscious. It's now the entry level standard for successful community relationships.
  • Go high tech to hire staff and to engage people you need to reach. Social media is free, easy to use so why not get on board and begin to use it in 2009.
  • Times may be tough but think long term and resist the panic urge to slash your marketing budget. Hopefully your organisation will be around long after this financial meltdown so keep talking to your clients and your community.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Don't Waste Time Social Networking Unless...

Social networking is a big waste of time ... if that's all you ever do.

At some point your online conversations and relationships have to convert to offline action if you either want to change something or make something happen. Perhaps the real power in online conversations through Facebook, blogs, Twitter etc is to raise awareness of issues and give people sufficient information to motivate them to act in the real world.

It all comes down to persuasion and trust and we think US marketing guru, Seth Godin has got it just about right.