Ipsos Mori Hong Kong - Reporting Live From The Future
Ipsos Mori Hong Kong – Reporting Live From The Future.

PR, communications and advertising professionals have a battle on their hands as audiences become increasingly connected, more demanding and informed, according to research by Ipsos Mori Hong Kong.

In a report released last week, the global research firm sees innovation and creativity as essential skills to bring increasingly disloyal customers onside.

The report, which has a focus on the Asia-Pacific markets, identifies a number of key points that will affect in business in Europe, North and South America, Middle-East and Africa.  These include:

  • Convergence of disciplines – public relations, marketing and advertising
  • Rise of creativity for improved audience building and engagement
  • Increase usage of digital data in campaign development.

Convergence of Disciplines:

Audiences do not care about how brands are presented to them.  Far too often, the planning processes bring together siloed professionals that think of the integrated outreach from a singular point – advertising, marketing, public relations.

As I have argued many times, these disciplines are blending into one with the lead in campaign development being taken by communications professionals that understand the behaviour of audiences and individuals.  This in turn will force organisations to break down the internal barriers to ensure that their propositions are developed to ensure that digital maximises traditional channels.

Importance of Creativity:

Creativity, even in B2B, is becoming a must for brands and companies.  In the report, Ipsos Hong Kong found that , ‘Creative quality accounts for 75% of variance in campaign success‘ and that ‘strong creative can achieve higher recall in-market with less support that weak creative with a higher level of media support.’

Improving the creativity will help position messaging at the front of the audiences decision-making process.

Digital Data:

Social networks and media have gathered together data that empowers not just the audience, but marketeers and communicators.

At numerous conferences and speaking engagements I have stated that today’s PRs have to think in a forensic manner, understanding the audience and planning the delivery of messaging to create a response that will generate engagement.  Everything must be planned and accounted for.  From the concept, to the launch, to the touch points.  It is a journey that needs to be planned by PR, brining together disciplines to ensure that the audience engagement and journey is seamless.

Today though, PRs have data at their disposal.  Data that gives the business decision-makers better insight into audience behaviour.  Data that should rid us of that useless Advertising Value Equivalent.

Audiences are more disloyal than ever before, especially if they perceive that they are treated like the individual next to them.  Social networks makes people into individuals, empowering them to be unique and more demanding.  And it all starts with the listening and learning.

The Adverting Standards Authority (ASA) siloed approach to regulating social media highlights this regulatory body’s lack of understanding of real-time communication channels.

On 1st September the ASA announced that the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) had empowered it to police ‘marketing communications online, including the rules relating to misleading advertising, social responsibility and the protection of children.’ The statement from the ASA added that, ‘the remit will apply to all sectors and all businesses and organisations regardless of size.’

It all sounded very well, apart from one specific paragraph, which stated, that journalistic and editorial content and material related to causes and ideas – except those that are direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising – were to be excluded from the remit.

And here lie the problem.  The guidelines and regulations that the ASA wishes to apply to social media and networking channels appear to have been written from a 20th centaury perspective, where marketing disciplines where siloed  – advertising was the big beast, direct marketing was direct marketing and public relations was, well, media relations.  There appears to have been little understanding of the fact that social media and networking crosses all these marketing disciplines.  In fact, it brings them together and maximises message penetration.

You would have therefore thought that the ASA would have consulted widely before announcing that it was to regulate social media channels.  Well, its statement said that the regulations that it would be enforcing were formed as a result of ‘formal recommendations from a wide cross-section of UK industry.’  Very odd thing to say given that the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and it’s Social Media Advisory Board, which I should declare that I sit on, had been omitted from any consultation even though numerous requests were made.

Without a doubt social media has to a certain extent be regulated – best practice needs to promoted.  The CIPR is currently reviewing its social media guidelines and has uploaded these to a wiki where people can register and share their thoughts.

Online and social media has changed the way that companies, brands and consumers interact with each other.  Transparency has a higher value than ever before, especially in a world where the old ‘broadcast communications model’ is taking a back seat to a ‘conversational’ one where consumers and stakeholders can cross examine business.

The ASA is right, there is a need to regulate.  But before doing so there needs to be a clear understanding of what one are trying to regulate, and why.  Marketing communications is changing.  Six months, the time until 1 March – when the regulations are currently due to come into force, is a long time in social media terms.

Engagement, dialogue and understanding comes through dialogue.  So lets start here.

No more news?  I think not!
No more news?

The MacTaggart Lecture took place last week with News Corporation’s James Murdoch deciding at long last to take the stand at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International TV Festival. Murdoch wasted no time in setting his stall out to get support as he painted a grim picture of the state of the UK’s media industry. Pointing the finger at the BBC, Murdoch described the corporation as a villain that had a “chilling” hold on the UK media landscape.

Given that we are in a recession Auntie was always going to be an easy target for the man from Sky. Murdoch though did have an audience.

After all, for quite a number of years we have been told that the news industry is dying a slow death. Print media – national, local and magazines – was passing away. Broadcast news is on the way out. Even subscription-based online news sites were in A&E. All very terminal. And all before one of the worst recessions in living memory, which has this year pushed advertising income down in many newspaper groups by between 20 and 30 per cent.

We are told that we, the consumers, are guilty of killing the industry by wanting our news for free. So whose fault is it that leading papers like The Observer are considering ceasing all together?

The fact is that since media executives decided to chase online advertising revenue stream at the beginning of the decade circulation of print newspapers and magazines have been dropping. As Alan Mutter points out in his blog, publishers couldn’t “figure out how to charge for content without throttling their web traffic and the online advertising that comes along with it.” What execs did was undermine their own industry by offering the goods for free, on a different platform maybe, but still without charge. Thus conditioning consumers to expect news on the house. Interesting strategy.

The Wall Street Journal though stepped out early on and offered access to its content online through a subscription service. They were one of the first to implement this strategy and in 2007 found itself with a daily circulation of more than 2 million, with approximately 931,000 paying online subscribers. While the Journal might be seen as a niche title with a focus on business and finance it certainly is a healthy position to be in, bucking the worldwide downward trend in income and circulation.

Meanwhile the UK-owned Financial Times is a title that has used a subscription-based strategy to its advantage. It decided to reduce the amount of free content available online and started to charge for access to the Lex column, FT Alphaville and others. FT.com now has 117,000 individual subscribers and makes it’s content available on a range of platforms including the US Kindle, as well as a new iPhone app, which was released to rave reviews. The app does what it’s designed to do – give users a taste of the quality journalism that the FT is renowned for through access to free content. But it also tempts users to subscribe to the FT so that they can make the most of the app.

Earlier this year Rupert Murdoch signalled that his news organisations would start charging for access to content online. This after News Corporation announced a 97 per cent slump across its newspaper titles. The rest of the industry took a deep breath, as the unspoken had at long last been made public.

Advertising-reliant media has been hit hard, leaving the industry to rethink its business and wonder how it is going to survive in the recession. The fact is that it can no longer rely on advertising revenue alone from its print and online platforms. With advertising budgets slashed, the news and media industries must find income from the people on the street. That means charging them for content.

Like the FT, The Times already offers a subscription service to readers. I subscribe to both, which is why I wonder if we will see The Times follow the FT’s model of offering limited free content online and in depth to subscribers or pay as you read customers.

Print itself might become a pointer to a fuller online package where news packages can be developed by taste and interest. Pay 90 pence and get part of the story. Subscribe and you get the full picture, together with the background briefings and extra content – video, podcasts, reviews, etc.

And what about magazines, I hear you ask? Well, yes, some titles have been bucking the downward trend, but overall sales are down. The proposition will need to be rethought and subscription services will be brought in.

Publishers like News Corporation have been backing the Kindle as a portable aggregator of news. And it makes sense. What also makes sense is the news of News Corporation meeting with other major publishers to discuss the setting of a consortium that would charge for news online.

Some people have come out and very publically stated that charging for news online won’t work. People expect it for free and won’t part with their cash. I think people will pay, but they will have to believe that they are getting value. In fact people already pay. The Times and The Financial Times already offer and heavily promote subscription based services to their print titles. The FT itself gives access to their content online to those who subscribe to the print edition of the FT. So, could a subscription service similar to this work? I think so. While I myself am a subscriber to both of these titles, as well as plenty of other magazines, I feel that subscription based wall offers exclusivity and value. Of course publishers will have to make sure that what is offered is exclusive, something that differentiates them from their competitors.

Not just that, but if your daily and monthly subscriptions were updated to a Kindle, Apple Tables or other eReader device, say at night when traditionally they went to press, then you knew that you were getting your titles within minutes of the copy being finished.

What you need is an ‘iTunes-style’ store through which you can get access and pay for a wide range of titles from around the world. A store through which you can get your UK titles as well as international titles that tick your interest box, so if you’re into fashion your GQ and Vogue from France, Italy, Japan and the US. And if it’s music, then Spin, Rolling Stone from the US, as well as UK’s NME. All downloaded to your device and updates sent via Wi-Fi wherever you are.

Of course social media will have a game to play in a new media landscape.  Titles are already publishing stories on Twitter, sending updates of breaking news stories as well sharing thoughts and knowledges and subjects they cover.  Social media is drawing people in to titles and for PRs enabling another tool to listen and follow journalists on their beat.

And ramping up subscriptions when advertising is down can only be a good thing for an industry that as tradition relied on advertising income.

You know, it might just make sense.

And as for the BBC? Well, news outlets need a standard to measure themselves against and the BBC is that standard for news quality. Criticising the BBC in my opinion is highlighting the weaknesses in your offering.

Bookmakers Better Bet have signed former Arsenal player Paul Merson as their new Brand Ambassador.  An interesting choice given that Merse claimed some time ago to have lost £7 million on gambling, which led to him being declared bankrupt in 2007.

So why appoint a self-confessed [former] gambling addict as the face of a bookies?  Surely appointing Merson is like appointing La Winehouse as the brand ambassador for the Colombian Tourist Board.

Since those dark days of his, Merson has been a regular on Sky Sports News as a pundit on the Gillette Soccer Saturday show.  So I guess that must have been the clincher for Better Bet; sign-up a pundit that regulars down the pub can recognise and your in the money.  Because I am sure that many people would want to place a bet after seeing Merse, after all, what could go wrong with one little wager, eh?

Brand Ambassadors after all are by nature people that can help promote and advertise a product, company or brand.  They have an element of celebrity that can help the company promote itself and its products in a controlled manner.  They become the human face of the organisation, a person that clients and importantly potential clients can associate themselves with and can help drive sales.  Ambassadors have to be asprational characters that can help get the clients messages through.

Just look at how David Beckham helped Gillette increase sales even with all the gossip that was surrounding him at the time.  Sales of Gillette products in the Far East, where there’s still an obsession with all things Beckham, broke records.  The deal was put together by Hill & Knowlton’s London office and while it was claimed to be one the biggest sponsorship deals the client was pleased with the results of their association with a person that even today is making headlines wherever his career takes him.

Meanwhile, in a statement Better Bet said: “The customers love Paul and can relate to him.”  Before adding: “I don’t know about his gambling problem in the past. He doesn’t hold an account with us or bet with us.”  It’s a kind of bearing your head in the sand after the horse has bolted (at the 3.15 at Lingfield no doubt.  Ed.) comment.

When researching candidates for the position of Brand Ambassador the first thing an in-house PR team or agency must do is analyse how candidates will affect the brand and reputation of their client or employer.  It appears that this hasn’t been done.

Sports sponsorship is an import tool in the PR armoury, especially in the US.  Get it wrong and you damage your brand.  Get it right and everybody wants a piece of the stardust that your ambassador brings to the company.

This is one to watch!

And if you want an alternative view on the deal then read ‘Celebrity Sell Out’s Altenative View of the Merson Campaign.’

***UPDATE***

Today, 26 March 2009, Betting firm Better have annouced that they have dropped their brand ambassador Paul Merson from the advertising campaign due to the large number of complaints they’ve received.  I wonder what they’ll be saying to their PRs?  A serious and harsh word if I were them.

More here: “Betting firm drops Merson from ad campaign.

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The Government recently unveiled an advertising and communications campaign to promote the export opportunities that exist to British industry.  Some might consider the timing to be odd given that the nation is in the middle of the worst recession in living memory.  But a recent UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) conference in London at the beginning of the month proved otherwise.

At UKTI’s ‘Digital Business: India and China’ two day conference which I worked on (Reuters TV news above) small and medium sized technology and communications companies came together to share knowledge on the opportunities that lay in two countries that are bucking the downward global economic trend.

Companies from Britain’s digital, technology, mobile and gaming sectors agreed that while growth in the UK was hard, business opportunities in these two countries gave them hope for the future.

During the second day, which was devoted to China, representatives from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology gave an insight into the help that was available to UK companies thinking of investing in China, a country that is looking to move its economy towards value-adding products and services.

Welcoming The World To Britain
Welcoming The World To Britain

We’ve seen UKTI’s ‘Take It To The World’ campaign message on billboards at stations up and down the country.  And companies like Playfish.com are an example of how Britain can take gaming to the world.

But what has this got to do with PR and communications?  Well, it was wisely pointed out at the conference that China was not just looking to bring expertise to its home country.  Businesses in China are looking to enter the British and European marketplace, thus increasing the need for services such as PR, advertising and the like for them.

And let’s be honest, Britain has usually been concerned about China and it’s new financial muscle.  But with the UK PR industry suffering in the current recession the opportunities that might exist from Chinese companies wishing to expand into Europe might help.

Some of the big agencies, such as Burson-Marsteller already serve and support Chinese companies, such as  online business-to-business trading company Alibaba.com, which last week announced a 39 per cent increase in revenue to over £300 million.

Agencies are getting ready for business from merging markets.  Maybe Brazil will be next.  Not a bad place for a business trip me thinks!