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Fiddling, while Byrne roams… December 11, 2008

Posted by James Warren in apropos of nothing, pr, work.

So the boss got promoted to be head of the whole of Europe – which is very cool and totally deserved because he’s, well, <brownnosing>inspirationally brilliant</brownnosing>.  On a far less grand scale, today it’s been announced that I’m taking on a global role, overseeing Weber Shandwick’s global digital excellence in association with the very awesome Chris Perry from the city of angels.  So I’ll now be fiddling with digital problems from all over, not just Europe.  Which is pretty much what I did before anyway, but it’s nice to get recognition, right?  Sorry if this post comes across as self-absorbed.  Truth be told I just wanted to use the pun in the title.  It tickled me.

Back to school November 27, 2008

Posted by James Warren in pr, work.

Here’s the original text of my PR Week Digital PR Essay, published today.  In it, I talk about the concept of Inline Communications (don’t plan/execute offline and online comms separately – all your comms must be ‘inline’) and revisit the requirement to Be Nice.  Comments welcome.


Beyond online.  Get inline

Digital must not be an afterthought.  Successful communications should be seamlessly integrated across all available channels

Is it really twelve months since the last PR Week Digital Essay supplement?  How time flies!  And yet, how much has changed since last we spoke.  Last year, on these very pages, I advised the communications function of every organization to assign dedicated resource to managing the promotion (and indeed protection) of its digital reputation.  I wonder how many followed this advice?  As anticipated, 2008 has seen the marketing world continue its unceasing adoption of digital tools and techniques.  This is only set to increase as we enter 2009 and we PROs are ideally placed to take full advantage – the online environment is fertile ground for creating and amplifying advocacy.  But how to profit from this advantage?

I wanted to use this essay to introduce two concepts; ideas upon which we at Weber Shandwick recommend you base your strategic communications planning and execution in 2009, and beyond.

The first idea is ‘inline.’  The beauty of inline is its simplicity: inline tells us not to build a standalone offline communications campaign and bolt it on to a distinct online campaign.  Rather, inline teaches us to plan, create and execute communications campaigns that make no distinction between the channels employed.  Public relations needs to break out of the silos of specialist planning and tactical execution and become truly reflective of how people (the community formerly known as target audience) are influenced.  At Weber Shandwick we do this by ensuring every campaign is optimized for the combination of channels that carry most influence.

As with all things, the devil is in the detail.  Working with our colleagues at Universal McCann we create what we call an Inline Profile for each campaign, an integrated influence model that reflects the audience we are trying to reach and the nature of the communications objective.  The Inline Profile enables us to identify which combinations of channels (and therefore tactical execution) will be most effective in driving advocacy.

To ensure all campaigns are inline, we have matched the insights gleaned from  the afore-mentioned profile with rigorous and thorough training of all staff, plus the embedding of digital experts into each practice/office across the company to give every Weber Shandwick consultant the confidence that only knowledge and experience bring.  This ensures that all campaigns are practically inline from conception to implementation.

Of course, inline communications is not only reflective of how the audience is influenced. Inline is a state of mind, a process and a point of view. It’s not just about media content – increasingly we are staging experiential events to help drive communications with key influencer groups.  And of course it is also based on media needs – ensuring that there is layer upon layer of additional corroborative information/messaging available via internet search and elsewhere, across all communication channels, to ensure no question of perspective goes unseen.

For evidence that inline communications works, look no further than the communicator of the year, President Elect Obama.  His election campaign was the living embodiment of inline thinking and execution, from the consistency of his ‘Change’ messaging to the perfectly coordinated integrated communications and engagement activities, whether via the media, online or in the field, the Obama team created a truly inline programme.

The second idea I want to talk about is again straightforward.  But if followed to the letter, it will ensure that the design and tactical execution of any digital activity is optimized for success.  And it is, very simply: Be Nice.

While it sounds trite, those businesses that adopt the attributes of niceness when communicating online can only succeed.  A few months ago I wrote on my blog: : “…if you’re generous with your time, are courteous, listen, don’t interrupt, help people achieve what they want to achieve and make people smile – in short, if you’re nice – then people will want to hang out with you and they’ll want to introduce you to their mates.”

Any organization that demonstrates the attributes of niceness online – those that run online campaigns that are inclusive, non-judgmental, even-handed, polite, respectful, courteous, humorous, empowering, supportive, interesting and engaging – will be infinitely better placed to succeed than an organization that doesn’t.  After all, it’s not not called antisocial media for nothing.

My advice to you all: get inline and be nice.  It’s just like being back at school.


Simon Says Move October 17, 2008

Posted by James Warren in pr, work.

So the cat is out of the bag…  I’ve been dying to write about this for ages!

I’m delighted to confirm that Simon is joining WS UK’s consumer team as head of digital.  This is the first step in our strategy of embedding digital experts (‘change agents’) into our European practice teams (as described, in a slightly round about fashion, in the phase two bit of this post) to bolster our ability to provide clients with appropriate multi-channel comms counsel and support.

We’re moving, rapidly, towards our goal of having digital DNA embedded throughout the agency.  In last December’s post, I estimated this would take at least twelve months.  The great news is we’re well ahead of schedule.  Welcome, Simon.  I can’t wait to have you as part of our merry virtual digiteam and look forward to helping you make a massive difference to our consumer practice (and beyond)!

EDIT: Simon’s take on the move.  Simon is one of the people I’ve most respected and followed over the years in the digital comms space.  In our discussions we very quickly realised we share the same views on the whats, wheres and hows of digital comms.  He’s going to make a tremendous contribution to our business.

Death to 20th Century thinking October 3, 2008

Posted by James Warren in geeky stuff, marketing, media, pr, social media, work.
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This is excellent.  It’s about IT, but it might as well be about the media.  Or anything else for that matter.  Cracking post.  A sample:

Assumption: We (IT) must control what users do with computers and technology. Zzzzttt! Wrong! Thanks for playing though. We (IT) need to learn how to coordinate what people do with technology, not control it. Control is an illusion. IT did not pick PCs. IT did not pick IM. IT did not pick GMail. IT did not pick Facebook. IT did not pick the iPhone. IT did not pick the Web. In fact, IT fought against much of this. Sure, we need to try to keep people safe in their use of technology. But, we need to be negotiators and coordinators and trusted advisors to decisions people will make about technology, not dictators.

Hat tip to the Gartner Tweet.  Disclosure: my wife consults for Gartner.

True to the name of his blog… October 1, 2008

Posted by James Warren in marketing, pr, social media.

The very fine Faris Yakob has ‘stolen’ my Be Nice idea.  Not that there’s a great deal of rocket science to it – it’s common sense, like all great observations (durr).  And when I say stolen, I mean ‘came up with the same idea’ (despite one of the PSFK blogs linking to my original post, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – see, I’m living the dream…).

The theory (and practice) has played a major part in all my recent ‘how to do digital media’ presentations, and to rave reviews (well, not rave necessarily…  but people didn’t laugh or throw things which frankly I interpret as pretty darn positive).  Indeed, yesterday it concluded a talk I gave to a group of direct marketers at a marketing event.  Needless to say, many of them struggled with the concept.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to say when I finally get around to publishing my white paper on the subject, you lot will have to back me up against the inevitable claims I stole the concept.

Successful digital strategy in two words July 4, 2008

Posted by James Warren in marketing, pr, social media.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about digital strategy and I keep coming back to one very simple universal truth: the key to success in digital communications, whether you’re an individual or a business, can be distilled down to two words: BE NICE.  If you don’t have it within your DNA to be nice then don’t even think about trying to do anything digital, because you will fail.  If you’re generous with your time, are courteous, listen, don’t interrupt, help people do what they want to do and make people smile – in short, if you’re nice – then people will want to hang out with you and introduce you to their mates. Simple.

It’s not not called antisocial media for nothing.

Truly, Weirdly Live June 10, 2008

Posted by James Warren in pr.

Look who’s back…  A permanent resurrection, perhaps?

Atishoo March 18, 2008

Posted by James Warren in blog, pr, work.

Crikey, it’s dusty round here.  Never mind.  Nothing a squirt or two of Cillit Bang can’t sort, I fancy.  The really good news is I am musing on a couple of interesting posts and – given that for the first time in about three months I don’t have a pitch this week – these ones may even see the light of day.  Who knows.

In the meantime – and I’m pleased to say this is becoming a familiar refrain – we are hiring (as the boss indicated a week or so ago).  I am increasingly desparate for some smart, willing, senior digibods to help service all the business mounting up next to my desk (and secure even more global/regional opps, natch).  I have projects on the go in the consumer, healthcare, technology, online, government and corporate arenas (arenae?), plus lots of digital video activity bubblnig away too.  Something for everyone.  If you fancy broadening your horizons and joining a team at the heart of this magnificent company’s future, get in touch at jwarren [at] webershandwick [dot] com.  Alternatively, direct Tweet me @jamesdotwarren.  You know it makes sense (and even if you don’t, try it anyway).

BetaBC December 14, 2007

Posted by James Warren in media, pr, web 2.0.

Been looking at the beta of the new BBC home page.  As you’d expect, it’s all leaning towards greater personalisation, allowing each user to specify the news that’s relevant to them.  And this ‘MyNews’ aspect will only get more sophisticated, I opine.  Which begs the question – does that make a splash for a client on the BBC web site more or less valuable…?  Discuss.

Why a specialist practice? December 4, 2007

Posted by James Warren in pr, social media, work.

A while back a gentleman wrote a letter to PR Week bemoaning the fact that my employer, Weber Shandwick, had established a standalone social media practice. The very excellent (although slightly naughty) Mr Wooding broke our blogging guidelines by taking umbrage at the fact and taking the letter’s writer to task on his blog. I didn’t respond partly because I was tied up in New York (steady) and mostly because I didn’t feel the need.

Anyway, the spat has been raised again here and here, so I thought I should add my perspective. Yes, we have a standalone social media practice. Actually, that’s not entirely true: we have a standalone interactive, social and emerging media practice. The ‘news’ PR Week was reporting was that my team’s P&L moved from being part of the tech division’s budget to being a standalone, central budget.

So why does Weber Shandwick have a dedicated digital practice?

First things first. I fundamentally believe you need specialist skills to be an effective digital communications consultant. Off the top of my head (and this is by no means an ordered or definitive list), you need to be a geek. Or rather you need to know a great deal about technology (preferably, I believe, to coding level), be sufficiently familiar with the myriad platforms and products available that you know how they work, who uses them and how to stitch them together. You need to know (through experience) what works and what doesn’t work online, what is and what isn’t best practice. Basic stuff like where the audience is, what they like to consume and how they like to consume it needs to be second nature (and this applies as much to tweens as it does to OAPs as it does to IT managers as it does to healthcare professionals as it does to policy makers). You need to know when digital is not the right thing to do. You need to know what the next big thing is and be able to explain it to your client. And you need to be able to tell a good story, otherwise all the above is a waste of time. As things stand, very few traditional PR/PA people have these skills. Those that do are working in roles like mine (or similar).

There are some other reasons why we’ve adopted the standalone strategy (reading this back it comes across as a willy-waving exercise. It really isn’t meant to me. I’m just trying to give it some context):

  • Weber Shandwick is big. By PR agency standards, very big. It employs lots and lots of people (over 320 in the London office alone, together with regional offices in Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Dublin, Aberdeen and more), working across many industry sectors. Each industry sector practice is the size of a medium-sized agency in its own right. Now, that’s lots of people, lots of clients and lots of complexity. At this point in time – while social media relations (for want of a better phrase) is in its infancy – putting sufficiently ‘digital’ PR people in the ‘silo’ of each practice doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. Better, we believe, to build a central centre of excellence where a team of digital specialists can sit, work and learn together, and help to define best practice guidelines and training materials that can then be disseminated throughout the whole agency.
  • Weber Shandwick has very big clients, and lots of them. Clearly, very big companies have a great deal to lose from poorly planned and executed online programmes. The potential for injudiciously chosen or poorly implemented online activity to damage share prices, reputation etc leads me to believe that while this social media lark is still nascent, engagement activity is best left to those people with the skills and experience outlined above. It is very easy to get things slightly wrong and end up with all sorts of digital egg on your face (and a jolly upset client). Now, while the same could be said for any client of any agency, when the client is a global one representing many, many millions of pounds’ worth of business to your employer (not to mention the other tens of millions it spends with your holding company’s other marketing agencies), it tends to make you rather determined not to fuck up.
  • Finally, Weber Shandwick believes that digital technologies and techniques lie at the heart of communications, in particular in relation to creating/encouraging advocacy (and PR is *all* about advocacy, as any fule kno). So part of my team’s focus is to identify ways in which we can build, nurture and measure advocacy online. To that end we are a central hothouse of innovation, experimentation and development, where we identify new technologies, try new techniques and – crucially – get things wrong in a controlled environment. Then we share that learning with the rest of the agency, increasingly on a global basis.

Ultimately my team’s role is to educate, evangelise and train the rest of the agency so they have the knowledge and tools at their disposal to make ‘digital PR’ a natural part of their communications arsenal. My team is a hub for best practice and its objective is to infuse digital DNA throughout the company. As we move into phase two of our strategy we’re identifying/putting evangelists in each practice area (these are most commonly the younger members of staff – the digital natives – that ‘naturally’ have a lot of the skills I listed above) who are virtual members of our team and who will over time take on and apply digital engagement skills and spread the ‘word’ within their practices. But you can’t expect a large agency (no matter how brilliant) to go from an almost standing start to warp speed overnight.  WS takes digital very seriously, which is why we’re investing in building a best-in-class team (of which more later) to help clients make the most of the opportunities now available.

Of course, if I’m successful my team will self-destruct and the fabled digital DNA will have been spread throughout the organisation. Realistically, I see this taking at least another twelve months – and we have a structured training programme and lots of tools to help our employees get there as quickly – and correctly – as possible. It is no exaggeration to say we’re reinventing the way PR people think about doing PR (this is not exclusively digital – our advocacy process and tools have a significant role to play here too).  Anyway, I’ve gone on too long…

Is the central specialist practice the right strategy? Time will tell. I’ve explained why I think it works for us, at this point in time, but would be interested in your thoughts – however trifling they may be. Before I go: we’re hiring across the board from senior to junior levels, and potentially not just in London, so if you fancy joining the digital evolution, please get in touch: jwarren [at] webershandwick [dot] com.