Inappropriate whine…

26 July, 2010

I saw something in a pub that really upset me over the weekend. This is what it was.

Wine on a tap? Wine. On. A tap. Draught wine.

This is, apparently, old news. My announcement of draught wine didn’t afford the cacophony of protest I had expected; no ‘clunk’ of jaws hitting floors; no smashing of dropped pint glasses; no anguished screams followed by back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead sitcom-style fainting. Nothing.

Amongst the plethora of other high-quality packaging options, (bottles, boxes, plastic tubs, barrels, old milk bottles, bathtubs), wine, apparently, occasionally comes on draught now. And this is deemed as acceptable.

Am I alone in finding this to be a bridge too far? This is now the world we live in. This is the result of roughly 10,000 years of evolution. First Dan Brown, now this. Truly The End Times have come…

On the other hand they *did* have an excellent website.

There. Technology blog, Not a rant. No sir. Not a rant.


Yet *another* Nestlé Hate campaign

22 March, 2010

It seems yet another Nestlé hate campaign has caught the eye of journalists. Not content with making me fat, the international choccie-peddler has been busy censoring critics on its Facebook page, only to cause a firestorm of indignation and attract massive attention to the issues criticised.


I’ve always thought of these Nestlé campaigns as being a bit like Jennifer Aniston movies:

1) They simply won’t go away. They keep cycling around long after you would have thought everyone would have grown tired of them. And terrible publicity never seems to kill them.
2) They all seem bizarrely familiar.
3) They often involve the poorly-thought-through involvement of z-list celebrities.
4) They tend to be surprisingly well-orchestrated and popular.
5) They usually revolve around something sickly-sweet, but ultimately make you feel sad for humanity.

Consider that metaphor laboured.

(Incidentally, as part of our recruitment process at EML Towers we usually ask interviewees to prepare a talk on a notable PR disaster. The boss has often lamented that the Nestlé/African powdered baby milk episode is the one incident that keeps being cited over and over. So be warned…)

While we must be careful not to appear to disrespect the weighty issues involved in the Nestlé debate(s), I suspect Nestlé may have become an institutionalised scratching-post of the anticapitalist and environmental movements, in a similar way to MacDonalds and Nike. They’re a big target. I’m sure there are plenty of other lower-profile companies doing these things.

Anyway, there are some simple lessons to be derived from the Nestlé Facebook page. It’s all too easy to fan the flames of hostile sentiments on social networks. That is, after all, why they call it ‘flaming’. So make sure the people that run the account are Social Media PR-savvy, and that you’re not going to attract undue attention by deleting unwanted comments.

See Digital Inspiration and the excellent for further PR observations on this episode.

I, for one, welcome our new robot-journalist overlords

19 March, 2010

How could we pass up this one? As reported by The Guardian and The Singularity Hub, pesky scientists in Tokyo, (where else!), have developed a fully-autonomous robot journalist.

Weren’t GM crops and identi-sheep enough? Damn you science… I think Dr Malcolm from Jurassic Park had it right.

Blah blah... scientists busy wondering if they 'could'... never stopped to think whether they 'should'.. 'chaos theory'... something something

If I was in a clever mood I’d suggest this story represents the natural evolution of what journalist Nick Davies in ‘Flat Earth News’ refers to as ‘churnalism’.

The idea behind this phenomenon is that journalists, with increasing financial and time pressures; are effectively reduced to machine-like roles, endlessly churning out many unchecked cookie-cutter stories.

But I’m not feeling clever, so here instead is a picture of ED209.

Do you mind if I Twitter this interview?

I don’t think it’s going to catch on.

Viddy this my brothers…

15 March, 2010

Ok, time for a little PR tip. We sometimes give these away for free.

There’s something I’ve been saying to clients over and over for a while now, and that I feel quite passionate about, and I want an opportunity to rant about it on the blog. It concerns the use of video as a PR tool.

Quite a few of the large companies that we work for, and even some of the smaller ones, are in the habit of making quite flash promo videos, often costing a reasonable amount of money.

That’s fine if that’s what you need. If you want to present a flashy, professional image to the world you should spend money on it your video.

However, that often tends to be it. Too many companies that could make excellent use of casual, low-grade, no-cost video on a more frequent basis don’t go near video again until it’s time for the next shoot.

I’m convinced that video is the most underused PR tool in the world. As print slowly goes the way of the dodo lots of journalists I speak to are desperate for some nice-looking video content to fill their sites.

As I advise my clients, companies have a huge opportunity to do some rough, shot-on-a-handheld, unlit, in-the-lab, spur-of-the-moment videos. How does this device work? What does this software do? Could you walk us through something? Have you had any interesting ideas about your industry? Journalists love this kind of thing.

And it’s never been so easy. My £180 camera at home can shoot HD video, (not that you’d ever need HD for the web). Every Mac comes with easy-to-use video editing software, and PCs can download free editing suites in a heartbeat.

I can’t help but think that, if I owned my own company, I’d try to hammer out a video diary once a week. A one-minute video diary can be prepped and finished within ten minutes, easily. Half an hour if you need to do any editing.

So my top tip is let journalists see some raw edges. Promotional video make you look professional, but video diaries can give you real personality, and will constantly drive you into the media’s mind.

Right… If you take me up on this, you can send the cheque to ‘Alex’ at EML Towers….

It’s the media, stupid

12 March, 2010

I take Japanese classes on Tuesday evenings.

On this particular Tuesday evening I heard something really sobering. Horrific, in fact.

I am one of only three people in the class who is old enough to remember cassette-based video games.

In fact, not only do I remember them, but, despite the longer, more sophisticated reign of the cartridge, I lost a great many years of my life to the flickering, squealing sounds of a ZX spectrum’s load-screen.

Having realised this, we started to deliberately reminisce about the other things that we knew would exclude the younger members of the class, and came up with the following list.

Some of the class didn’t just look befuddled by some of these; they flat-out refused to believe some of them existed:

– Minidiscs, (much more recent, but only teenagers would ever really buy them)
– Encarta 95
– Remote-controlled cars that were attached by a wire
– Calculator watches
– Those flat Donkey Kong games that were powered off a watch battery

– 5 1/4 floppy disk drives
– Atari cartridges
– The C64
– Going to WH Smiths to buy a ten pack of TDK90s

I’m 28. I may have grown a beard, (thus making myself my own evil twin from a parallel dimension), but I’m still too young to reminisce.

Never mind carbon dating. When they dig us up in 10,000 years the first thing they’ll do is check our pocket for some storage media.

The high street is dead. Kick it in the kidneys!

16 December, 2009

Are you being served? Nope. These days you'd be lucky if Mr Humphries even acknowledged you, let alone tried to flirt with you.

Mobile phone retailers must hate BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan Jones right now. Rory has taken the bold step of describing the difficulty in taking a mobile phone back to a dealership as compared to the experience of buying a phone across the internet.

Right now, when the retail industry is in the worst shape it’s been in for years, and people are being laid-off left, right and centre, this is terrible PR for the retail industry. It’s like Rory has kicked the retail industry’s teeth in, then returned to steal its wallet and insult its Mum.

We’ve all done it, right? Looking into the eyes of an eager phone salesman, knowing you’re using him to test-drive the latest models; then walking home to get a cheaper deal on the intertron.

This is symptomatic of a larger problem; and one that’s not just about price.

I’ve said many times that I’d pay a premium for high-street technology. In return for this premium I would want the personal touch; a bit of face-to-face expertise, a relationship with the shopkeeper, and a bit of take-back value if anything goes wrong, as in Rory’s article. I think a lot of people think this way.

The trouble is, having tried this approach, you don’t really get any of these things any more. You get all of the drawbacks of the shops; having to go slog there through the crowds, deal with the staff, and then lug your goods home. Plus you get all of the drawbacks of an inferior aftersales experience and some extra expense thrown in for your troubles. Perhaps that’s something for shops to consider.

My father always tried to dissuade me from shopping for gadgets, cameras, computer accessories, etc, on the internet. Compared to a store, he thought, you’d have difficulties returning things if ever anything went wrong.

Unfortunately the exact reverse now seems to be true. In fact, I suspect the figures will show that this Christmas has been the most-lucrative-ever for internet retail.

Just as important as the poor after-sales, though, is the poor level of customer service you frequently experience on the high street when actually buying my various gadgets and gismos. And there’s a lesson in this. I had two revealing retail experiences this weekend; both involved polite and courteous customer service; one a taxi driver, the other a shop assistant. In both cases I came away thinking two things:

– Isn’t it nice when the people you’re paying are polite and courteous?
– Why have I noticed this?

This is something our transatlantic neighbours have got right. Though I’ve found American customer service to occasionally be cloying and saccharine, shouldn’t staff be polite if you’re paying them?

In contrast I’ve found that British shop assistants are frequently sullen, rude, unhelpful and often poorly-trained.

Is it any wonder people are turning to the internet in droves?

The British retail industry has been, to some extent, its own worst enemy. So what should we do? Continue to use internet trade to kick the retail industry in the teeth until it learns? Or cut the retail industry some slack, putting up with bad service even more until the storm passes?

Personally, I’m a fan of the model of ‘recession as consolidation and fat-trimming improvement’. I’m no economic conservative; many good and qualified people have been losing their jobs senselessly. But recession would be even more senseless if we didn’t at least draw some hard lessons from it. Treat the customer right, know your stuff, and offer takeback value, and your PR will take care of itself.

[As an addendum to this posting – I’d like to add that I am 100% a fan of the high street, and would hate to see it disappear. I’d love to hear other people’s opinions on this.]

Obvious news is obvious

17 November, 2009

In what must go down as the most obvious bit of reporting since the Daily Mail ‘flipped’ in 1939 (to declare that Hitler was actually not such a ‘good egg’ after all), the Times has broken the world exclusive that, yes, I.T. workers really are a bit more wheezy and sweaty than other professionals.

Why? Because of the lack of exercise? The terrible, snacky on-the-go food? The isolation of IT offices allowing people to eat what they want, when they want? A lack of peer pressure? All of the above?

We particularly like The Times’ line ‘IT workers take the biscuit for missing government recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. And then come back for more biscuits.’

Mmm. Biscuits.

While reading this story I realised that, despite the fact that the staff of EML towers spend a lot of our time at our desks crying and smearing cake around our faces, we’re actually doing surprisingly well. Government guidelines for a healthy lifestyle are; five fruit and/or veg a day, and half an hour of strenuous exercise five times a week. We mostly eat quite healthily, (outside of work), and a  lot of us cycle in every day, making for an hour of exercise every day. EML seems to have got itself some kind of magical get-out-of-jail-free card. Either that, or we’re all about to keel over of type two diabetes.

In any case at EML we embrace our more sizable brethren with wide-spread arms. There was a definite note of flippancy in the Times’ tone, however.

Oops. Need a bit of space-filler…

Anyway, here, without further ado is a link to my favourite website, ‘crying while eating’. I suggest you all have a good look at this and think hard before reaching for that cup of Horlicks served in the Bacon Mug.

And here’s an image of a morbidly obese hedgehog.

Wait, what was I talking about again? I seem to have fallen into an internet hole. And now I can’t prize myself out.