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Masterstroke June 3, 2009

Posted by James Warren in funny, geeky stuff, social media, work.
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So the mighty Bing has arrived, and jolly good it is too.  You may have noticed that a significant proportion of the chatter online relates to Bing’s apparent ability to deliver fantastic porn results.  Now of course I can’t comment because I haven’t tried.  (No, really, I haven’t.  Properly, honestly, not).  But it did occur to me – and I hasten to add this is complete and utter supposition on my part – that if this was a deliberate decision (“let’s optimise our new search engine for the most searched for online commodity”) then it is total, complete and utter genius.  Enable people to search for adult content via Bing and the theory is they’ll stay and search for other stuff too.  Of course, Microsoft will never admit as much and just claim it was a happy coincidence.  But I’m not so sure.  It is, if you’ll forgive the phrase, a masterstroke.

(Same size print: Microsoft is a client)

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.

Video skilled the Radiohead March 18, 2008

Posted by James Warren in marketing, music, social media, web 2.0.
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A while back I wrote about the Radiohead and NIN music distribution developments.  I still maintain that it’s only already established big bands that can do this and still make megabucks, but anyway…  Came across this just now.  User generated video production, courtesy of Radiohead.  You can make a video for Radiohead.  And you can win some cash.  Don’t know about you but this doesn’t sit terribly comfortably with me.  Can’t quite put my finger on it.  Are marketers beginning to try the patience of the ‘produsers’?  What’s the difference between harnessing creativity and exploitation?  I have been pondering on such matters for a while and my discombobulated thoughts may well manifest themselves in a post in the next day or so.  In the meantime, I refer you to this quote from Bash.org:

Q: Please describe web 2.0 to me in 2 sentences or less. 

A: You make all the content.  They keep all the revenue.

Sky Pea December 12, 2007

Posted by James Warren in social media, web 2.0.
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The boss has blogged brilliantly this morning – lots of talk about the Ofcom report which states the Brits are the most socially-networked nation in Europe.  By way of affirmation, as I sat on the train this morning among the Christmas shopping daytrippers (I drop my youngest off at school on a Wednesday, so head in post-rush hour) I heard a charming old lady tell her companion about the wonders of Skype (which she pronounced Sky-pea).  It seems she had to persuade her daughter to install it so she could talk to and see her grandchildren in the West Country.  She was quite an advocate though, detailing all the product attributes (calls are completely free!) and features (wonderful clarity of picture, no delay, it’s wonderful).  Unwittingly – because she was talking in that wonderfully loud way women of a certain age do – she had the covert yet rapt attention of half the carriage.  As a result I’m certain there’ll be a few fellow passengers that will be trying Skype this weekend (although I wonder how many will try to access http://www.skypea.com).  Advocacy in action and a timely reminder that it’s not just the young ‘uns who are digitally fluent.

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.

May Day May Day May Day November 16, 2007

Posted by James Warren in pr, social media, work.
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My very excellent colleague Brendan May has launched a blog dedicated to the discussion of CSR issues, the brilliantly titled May Day May Day May Day.  Brendan is one of the planet’s leading sustainabililty and responsible business experts.  Plus he’s very amusing.  Read the blog, ask him stuff, feed the world.

Secretly serviced November 6, 2007

Posted by James Warren in social media, travel.
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Eurostar has a truly brilliant social media activation relating to its move from Waterloo to St Pancras – seriously good blog, Flickr stream etc etc.  I’m just rather gutted that I only found it today (on Noisy Decent Graphics, via a very circuitous route).  There’s no link on the main Eurostar page or any subsequent page that I could find and I’ve not read about it anywhere else.

Of course, work November 5, 2007

Posted by James Warren in social media, web 2.0, work.
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I want to go back to University and do stuff like this.  Although I don’t consider myself to be old, this kind of further education is unrecognisable even to me.  Admittedly Mr Wesch’s course seems exceptional, but whether they’re learning or not from their lectures, the fact is that all today’s (developed world/middle class) students have access to technologies that allow them to collaborate, to experiment, to learn.  Students have always had a hunger and passion for development, of course, together with time to invest in the process.  But I think the value of being a student these days is not so much what they learn as how they are learning, how they use information and how they exist as part of a community (whether that’s a group of mates, a class, a fan forum or a continent).  Today’s students will come into business with an entirely new perspective on not only communication and interaction, but also ‘doing stuff’.  They won’t accept no as an answer.  They have free and immediate access to tools that can make things happen.  In the (recent) past you had to join a company to gain access to the tools required to make things happen.  That’s a significant wall, torn down.

This is going to come across as overbearingly pompous/arrogant/ridiculous and indeed, it probably is misplaced, BUT I’m going to say it anyway: I feel genuinely sorry for people that aren’t working/playing in the digital space.  I really do.  Not being deeply immersed in this stuff would scare me, quite a lot.  I think the changes we’ve seen in the past two years is as nothing to the changes ahead.

But then, my dad probably said the same thing about calculators.