the grass is greener on the internet


There’s relations in public relations
April 15, 2010, 4:08 pm
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I don’t usually play the ‘naming and shaming’ game.

However this time I think the firm involved should know better, and if not they NEED to know better.

A Powell Tate consultant recently wrote a comment on the ‘about’ page of a friend’s corporate social responsibility blog, providing unsolicited information about a large F&B company’s new CSR initiatives on behalf of that company.

I use the word ‘wrote’ loosely, because it was clearly a form email.

Why do I have a problem with this? Let me count the ways:

  1. It was completely unsolicited and irrelevant to that page.
  2. We know you’re going to use a form email, but it’s nice to be able to believe that you paid enough attention to who you were sending it to to try and make it interesting/relevant.
  3. It’s bad form to use an email + attachment as a blog comment, particularly when the page has a contact email.
  4. Ditto for blog comments longer than 2 screen’s worth.
  5. Ditto for comments where one third is a wordy legal disclaimer.

Contrast this with the consultant from Howorth in Australia who contacted me a week or two ago about the Microsoft Student House competition promoting Windows 7 to students.

Okay, his job is made slightly easier by the fact that I’m involved with a student organisation also promoting it, and it made a MUCH better impression on me than some of Microsoft’s other attempts to utilise social media.

But what was also nice:

  1. Being addressed by name.
  2. A demonstration that he actually knew what my blog was about.
  3. Not having to trawl through an entire essay.
  4. Comment love.
  5. A prompt response when I replied with a question.

See, it’s not so hard, is it? We know you’re busy. We’re busy. We know you’re probably sending the same thing to other bloggers. We also have problems coming up with new things to write all the time. We don’t expect you to write us a long personal love letter. But just taking a couple of extra minutes to be nice makes a difference.

So, because someone reassured me that there’s still relations in public relations, here’s the feel-good entry that won the competition to share the love. The girls get free rent and use of a slew of electronics for 7 months, which I hope they share too.

[And just because I like segways, I heard about this UK survey recently which says that amongst businesspeople the brand with the best reputation is Microsoft, beating other likely suspects like Google and Apple.

Microsoft, I’m glad you’re back.]

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Brand rankings by social media sentiment
October 21, 2009, 5:10 pm
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Agencies are always making up rankings to try and get noticed. So when I saw the Sysomos ‘Top Brands by Social Media Presence’ I thought hey, anyone could’ve counted up the number of social media mentions brands get, what’s so special?

But wait…here’s something a bit more interesting.

The top-scoring brands for positive reactions are in green, negative reactions in red. (See the Sysomos page for actual rankings.)
The top-scoring brands for positive reactions are in green, negative reactions in red. (See the Sysomos page for actual rankings.)

They’ve done an additional ranking using their ‘sentiment engine’ (an accurate name but odd image) which analyses whether the mentions are positive or negative from their context.

It’s interesting to note that all of the highest scoring positive mentions are related to electronics – due to review sites perhaps? More surprising then that Apple and Google, the top two from the mentions rankings and general favourites, don’t feature in the sentiment top 5.

It’s also unclear whether positive and negative mentions could cancel each other out or whether they were separate scales.

Do you think it’s accurate?



Copycat Coles
October 18, 2009, 5:49 pm
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It’s becoming a game of ‘spot the difference’.

There’s some mentality that the moment your main competitor does something, you’ve got to do what they did.

When that something is ‘make lots of money and use it to completely change the layout of their stores’, it’s a bit more difficult.

One, it’s expensive. Two, they’re going to have a massive headstart on you.

So sometime when Woolworths was having their consultation with Hans Hulsbosch and started rolling out their new corporate identity, Coles was having a chat (with McKinsey, if the rumours are true) about its own identity crisis.

Lo and behold, a new store layout!

This humble observer would like to present to you what’s new, what looks suspiciously similar and where Coles might be breaking from the mould.

Continue reading



iPhone: got yours? Which one is it?
July 23, 2009, 4:47 pm
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In the top ten of ‘times I have felt very Asian’ would have to be when I pointed out to a friend that her brand new iPhone did not have the appropriate infrastructure to support dangly things**.

Not a great omission, you’d think.

That is, until everyone at the table gets their iPhone out, compares them, and then can’t figure out which is which.

Now iPhones come in four colours; Blackest Black, Whitest White, Covered and Heavily Smudged. Three out of those four don’t look very good (which is half the point of having an iPhone). This means that there is a proliferation of black iPhones with very little external recognisability.

How about an app that tells you which one's yours? It could scan the fingerprint smudges...

How about an app that tells you which one's yours? It could scan the fingerprint smudges...

For a company driven by good design, this should have come up as a potential problem. Currently about a third of my friends either already have an iPhone or are about to buy one. Not to mention the iTouch, which is essentially the iPhone except not a phone.

Macbooks are not much easier to recognise, unless one defaces that clean surface with stickers.

So far the only Mac product with any sort of external self-expression is the iPod Nano. Notably the addition of colour has not reduced the iconic status of the device.

True, the simplicity of Apple products has been touted as allowing them to be for anyone as ‘they can be whatever you want them to be’. But the practical issue remains.

So for the next iPhone, please Apple…we don’t care about copy/paste, turn that design genius to identification!

**As this post’s token irony, the iPhone doesn’t support Asian language input either.



The sell-out
July 18, 2009, 3:50 pm
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For years hardcore Black Eyed Peas fans have been repeating that litany of the musical world; “I liked their earlier stuff better”

But the latest track ‘I’ve got a feeling’ hasn’t just caved to the electro phenomenon, it’s also clearly sold some advertising space.

I count five products, how about you?

Reminds me of a conversation with Age about American Apparel…similarly, BEP started out with niche appeal to a few of the ‘cool kids’, and rode the wave when their style became mainstream. Now that their style is no longer dominant, should they retain their roots or face tough competition in trying to trend-hop?



Employer branding: does Gen Y want CSR?
July 15, 2009, 3:36 pm
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PR is lovely. It allows companies to make newsflashes of ‘insight’ into topics ‘we have little to no understanding of’ (ie. Gen Y**) and promote themselves in the process.

Recent example: Morgan Stanley’s report by a 15 year old intern on why teenagers don’t use Twitter.

Let’s just ignore the fact that I’ve seen umpteen posts saying exactly the same thing from ‘Gen Y’ blogs. I think a more sensational headline might have been ’15 year old interns handling affairs of global financial management company’.

Like I said, PR is lovely.

This brings me to my original question: does Gen Y really look for CSR when choosing an employer?

…because according to headlines from several large companies, this is a key requirement tabled by ‘Gen Y’ in interviews.

Is this really true or just a marketing stunt?

  1. It allows the company to grab a headline
  2. It makes students think that if everyone else is aware of it maybe they should be too
  3. A further 250 words can be devoted to the company’s CSR efforts

[Let us note at this point that just because a story has been used for marketing purposes, it is not necessarily made up – the Morgan Stanley case demonstrates this.]

However, as a blanket statement, I don’t think you can say that ‘Gen Y’ feels CSR is important in an employer.

Rants on the general nature of the term ‘Gen Y’ aside, at the moment those just graduating or in junior roles are mostly just glad to GET a job. Many will not have the option to ‘choose’ their employer, and they will rank pay and job description higher than CSR in importance. It only comes into play where all else is equal. (Not that it’s so black and white – it’s usually that we like the brand more from the impression we get.)

This is something we’ve seen from before the GFC, though. Unethical corporate behaviour can be a disincentive, but proactive CSR strategies mostly only aid HR in forming company culture.

Not to say that CSR is not important – as a generation we are more aware of environmental issues hearing about a brand doing ‘good things’ can leave us with a better feeling.

But from talking to a variety of people, there is only a select group to whom CSR is very important. They’re generally highly educated, grew up with volunteer work or come from a religious educational background. Caring about issues like sustainability or human rights often coincides with a dedication to studies and long-term results. If they form part of your target market for candidates then your employer brand will benefit from an extensive CSR program.

Me personally? I wouldn’t feel comfortable working for an unethical employer and would much prefer to go for a job where I have the opportunity to continue making an impact on causes I believe in. Quite a few friends are the same. But I know we’re definitely not the majority.

**Irony fully intended.



Search engine response 1#
July 9, 2009, 4:35 pm
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I like to help people. Generally speaking.

So I note that some search engine cleverly delivered someone to this blog four times with the phrase:

“can you patent brand image”

I find this slightly confusing as I’m reasonably sure that I’ve never discussed patents on this blog. However, in response:

No, you can’t.

Patents are used to protect inventions, ie. product design. FYI, they usually need to take an ‘inventive step’ to solve a problem. ‘Inventive step’ means ‘not obvious’. (read: at discretion of the judge) Once you’ve patented an invention you can take claims against people trying to register similar ideas.

What you probably want is a trademark.

This allows you to protect phrases, made-up words, images…basically all of your branding. Other people can register similar trademarks, as long as it won’t be deceptive.

Assuming you find me again, hope that helps. Of course, this is ridiculously simplified and you should look for your country’s IP authority website at the very least.