Have we reached peak streetwear?

At the end of January I wrote a blog post about the landmark collection by Louis Vuitton and Supreme.

I delved into the history of streetwear and the deep connection it shared with luxury brands. This linkage came from counterfeit products, brand and design language appropriation.

This all came from a place of individuality and self expression of the wearer.

obey

I reposted it from my blog on to LinkedIn. I got a comment from a friend of mine which percolated some of the ideas I’d been thinking about. The comment crystalised some of my fears as a long-time streetwear aficionado.

This is from Andy Jephson who works as a director for consumer brand agency Exposure:

The roots of street and lux that you point to seem to be all about individuality and self expression and for me this is what many modern collabs are missing. To me they seem to be about ostentatious showmanship. I love a collaboration that sees partners sharing their expertise and craft to create something original. The current obsession with creating hype however is creating a badging culture that produces products that could have been made in one of the knock-off factories that you mention. Some collabs that just produce new colourways and hybrid styles can be amazing, reflecting the interests of their audience. But far too many seem gratuitous and are completely unobtainable for the brand fans on one side of the collaborative partnership.

The streetwear business is mad money

From Stüssy in 1980, streetwear has grown into a multi-billion dollar global industry. Streetwear sales are worth more than 75 billion dollars per year.

By comparison the UK government spent about 44.1 billion on defence in 2016. Streetwear sales are more than three times the estimated market value of Snap Inc. Snap Inc., is the owner of Snapchat.

Rise of Streetwear

It is still about one third the size of the luxury industry. Streetwear accounts for the majority of menswear stocked in luxury department stores. Harvey Nichols claimed that 63% of the their contemporary menswear was streetwear. Many luxury brands off-the-peg men’s items blur the boundary between luxe and streetwear.

The industry has spawned some technology start-ups acting as niche secondary markets including:

  • Kixify
  • K’LEKT
  • THRONE
  • StockX
  • SneakerDon
  • GOAT

Large parts of the streetwear industry has become lazy and mercenary. You can see this in:

  • The attention to detail and quality of product isn’t what it used to be. I have vintage Stüssy pieces that are very well-made. I can’t say the same of many newer streetwear brands
  • Colour-ways just for the sake of it. I think Nike’s Jordan brand is a key offender. Because it has continually expands numbers of derivative designs and combinations. New Balance* have lost much of their mojo. Especially when you look at the product their Super Team 33 in Maine came up with over the years. The fish, fanzine or the element packs were both strong creative offerings. By comparison recent collections felt weak
  • The trivial nature of some of the collaborations. This week Supreme sold branded Metro Cards for the New York subway
  • Streetwear brands that sold out to fast moving consumer products. This diluted their own brand values. While working in Hong Kong, I did a Neighborhood Coke Zero collaboration. The idea which had some tie-in to local cycling culture and nightscape. Aape – the second-brand of BAPE did a deal wrapping Pepsi cans in the iconic camouflage

Hong Kong brand Chocoolate did three questionable collaborations over the past 18 months:

  • Vitaminwater
  • Nissin (instant noodles)
  • Dreyer’s (ice cream)

By comparison, Stüssy has a reputation in the industry for careful business management. The idea was to never become too big, too fast. The Sinatra family kept up quality and selective distribution seeing off Mossimo, FUBU and Triple Five Soul. Yes, they’ve done collaborations, but they were canny compared to newer brands:

“The business has grown in a crazy way the past couple of years,” says Sinatra. “We reluctantly did over $50 million last year.”

Reluctant because, according to Sinatra, the company is currently trying to cut back and stay small. “It was probably one of our biggest years ever — and it was an accident.”

Sinatra characterises Stüssy’s third act as having a “brand-first, revenue second” philosophy, in order to avoid becoming “this big monstrosity that doesn’t stand for anything.”

The Evolution of Streetwear. The newfound reality of Streetwear and its luxury-like management academic study uncovered careful brand custodianship.

It’s not clothing; it’s an asset class

Part of the bubble feel within the streetwear industry is due to customer behaviour. For many people, street wear is no longer a wardrobe staple. Instead it becomes an alternative investment instrument. Supreme items and tier zero Nike releases are resold for profit like a day trader on the stock market.

Many of the start-ups supported by the community play to this ‘day trader’ archetype. It is only a matter of time for the likes of Bonham’s and Sotherby’s get in on the act.

A key problem with the market is that trainers aren’t like a Swiss watch or a classic car. They become unusable in less than a decade as the soles degrade and adhesive breaks down.

There is the apocryphal story of a Wall Street stock broker getting out before the great stock market crash. The indicator to pull his money out was a taxi driver or a shoe shine boy giving stock tips.

Streetwear is at a similar stage with school-age teenagers dealing must-have items as a business. What would a reset look like in the streetwear industry? What would be the knock-on effect for the luxury sector?

More information
USA Streetwear Market Research Report 2015 | WeConnectFashion
Louis Vuitton, Supreme and the tangled relationship between streetwear and luxury brands | renaissance chambara
New Balance Super Team 33 – Elements Collection | High Snobriety
New Balance ST33 – The Fanzine Collection | High Snobriety
1400 Super Team 33 (ST33) trio | New Balance blog – the infamous fish pack
How Stüssy Became a $50 Million Global Streetwear Brand Without Selling Out | BoF (Business of Fashion)
The Evolution of Streetwear. The newfound reality of Streetwear and its luxury-like management by de Macedo & Machado, Universidade Católica Portuguesa (2015) – PDF

* in the interest of full disclosure, New Balance is a former client.

Watson’s peer isn’t an AI, it’s just like Tony the Tiger

e
IBM have done some iconic advertising since the late 1990s. Sun became the dot behind dot com; but was out-marketed by IBM’s ownership of e-business.
e hip
For some early clients like Boxman – there were accusations that IBM was learning about the internet whilst it did the work. And for many many of the products it was little more than putting HTML lipstick on a mature technology pig.

In 2008, that seems to have changed to smarter planet as IBM looked to get involved in infrastructure from building management to traffic control.

In 2011, IBM’s Research division saw the culmination of a seven year project that had one of their supercomputers perform on TV game show Jeopardy!  Marketing really started to change in 2014 in a dramatically different direction. IBM started describing a mix of machine learning and big data analysis technologies as Watson – they have their own Watson business unit. The implication being that the company had a corporate mascot. Think Tony the Tiger meets The Terminator.
What I Got When I Mailed Tony The Tiger An Autograph Request
The Watson you might have been sold may use similar technology principles but there isn’t a single sentient AI doing your tax returns in one milli-second and pharmaceutical research the next. Yet having talked to friends who work in a number of sectors and that’s precisely how they perceived Watson.

 

PR in Trump’s America

Interesting hour long video discussion on public relations in the US in the midst of media change with the Trump administration. It has a really interesting polling post mortem on Hillary’s loss.

Louis Vuitton, Supreme and the tangled relationship between streetwear and luxury brands

The recent collaboration between New York’s Supreme and Louis Vuitton seems like a natural fit.  The reality is that luxury and streetwear have been dancing around each other for a good while.

Snide started it all

Snide was slang in the 1980s for fake or counterfeit. Hip Hop and the Caribbean-influenced Buffalo movement in the UK each used counterfeit and real luxury in their own way.

Daniel Day, better known as Dapper Dan was a was a Harlem-based craftsman and business man who dressed a lot of New York based artists from the golden age of hip hop. Dan’s first hip hop client was LL Cool J back in 1985. Dan’s style was luxe, the finest silks and furs were standard issue – think Puff Daddy before Puff Daddy. They went for customised outfits with their branding on which Dan provided. As the scene took off Dan incorporated suit lining material (which replicated the likes of the Fendi, Bally  or MCM brands) and Gucci or Louis Vuitton branded vinyl to make one-off products.

He customised trainers, clothing and even car interiors. Dan’s own Jeep Wrangler had an interior retrimmed in MCM branded vinyl.

Much of the luxury branding Dan used was coming in from Korean factories which at that time supplied the fake trade. Now similar products would have come out of China. I took a trip to the South China City complex in 2010 where fabric suppliers would offer Louis Vuitton labels and Supreme tags side-by-side.  I can only imagine that the Korean suppliers of the 1980s  had similar markets in textile industry centres like Deagu. Outside of hip hop, Dan was the go-to tailor for all the hustlers in Harlem – so you can see how he could have got the hook-up into the counterfeit suppliers.

At the time hip hop culture was not in a relationship with brands who where concerned about how it might affect them. LL Cool J was the first artist to get a deal with Le Coq Sportif. Run DMC got a long term deal with Adidas after their single ‘My Adidas’ became successful. But these were the exceptions to the rule.  So with Dan’s help they co-opted the brands to try and demonstrate success.

Over in the UK, the Buffalo collective of stylists, artists and photographers including Ray Petri, Jamie Morgan, Barry Kamen (who modelled for Petri), Mark Lebon and Cameron McVey. Buffalo was known as an attitude, which threw contrasting styles together and filtered into fashion shoots and influenced the collections of major designers including Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Paul Gaultier and Comme des Garçons. Even if you didn’t know what Buffalo was, you would have recognised the aesthetic from the likes of i-D, Blitz, New Musical Express and Arena. 

Buffalo mixed Armani jackets with Doctor Martens work boots, or a Puma bobble hat. Petri used music to sound track his process and this was pretty similar to the kind of stuff that influenced street wear pioneer Shawn Stussy over in California. Motown and hip-hop to dub reggae was the sound which explains the Feeling Irie t-shirts created by the white surfboard maker.

If you thought Bros looked cool in their MA-1 bomber jackets and stone washed Levi’s 501 jeans – there was a direct stylistic line back to Buffalo – rehabilitating the items from their link to skinhead culture.

Buffalo permeated into the street style of the decade; influencing the likes of Soul II Soul. Meanwhile over in Bristol The Wild Bunch were yet to morph into Massive Attack. Two members headed to London; producer Nelle Hooper and Miles Johnson (aka DJ Milo who went on to work in New York and Japan). A shoot was organised by i-D magazine and they turned up wearing their street clothes alongside DJ Dave Dorrell and model / stylist Barnsley. At the time, it was considered to be ‘very Buffalo’ in feel, but Dave Dorrell admitted in an interview that they had just came as they were. Dorrell wore his t-shirt as ‘advertising’ for it.

buffalo

The Hermes t-shirt and belt were snide, the Chanel Number 5 t-shirt sported by Dave Dorrell were being knocked out by a group of friends. Young people in London co-opted brands just like the hip-hop artists heading to Dapper Dan’s in Harlem.

Homage

From 1980, surfer Shawn Stussy had been growing an clothing empire of what we would now recognise as streetwear. Stussy had originally came up with the t-shirts as an adjunct and advertisement of his main business – selling surfboards. But the clothing hit emerging culture: skating, punk, hip-hop and took on a life of its own. It went global through Stussy’s ‘tribe’ of friends that he made along the way.

Stussy is known for his eclectic influences and mixing media: old photographs alongside his own typography. In a way that was unheard of in brand circles at the time, Stussy manifested his brands in lots of different ways. The back to back SS logo inside a circle was a straight rip from Chanel; the repeating logo motif that appeared in other designs was a nod to MCM and Louis Vuitton.

All of this went into the cultural melting pot of world cities like Tokyo, New York, London and Los Angeles. Stussy went on to do collaborations from a specially designed party t-shirt for i-D magazine’s birthday party to the cover art of Malcolm Maclaren records. Collaboration with mundane and high-end brands is backed into streetwear’s DNA.

Coke Zero x Neighborhood limited edition cans

(Neighborhood x Coke Zero was something I was involved with during my time in Hong Kong.)

Japan with its engrained sense of quality and wabisabi took the Buffalo mix-and-match approach to the next level. Japan’s own streetwear labels like Visivim, Neighborhood, W-Taps, The Real McCoy and A Bathing Ape (BAPE) took streetwear product quality, exclusivity and price points into luxury brand territory. That didn’t stop BAPE from making a snide versions of various Rolex models under the ‘Bapex’ brand.

Bapex

Some two decades later Supreme came up in New York. The brand takes design appropriation and homage to a new level. Every piece Supreme seems to do is a reference to something else. The famous box logo rips from Barbara Kruger’s piece ‘I shop therefore I am’. From taking a snide swipe at consumerism to ending up in the belly of the beast took Supreme a relatively short time. This heritage of appropriation didn’t stop Supreme from using legal means against people it felt had appropriated its ‘look’.

In an ironic twist of fate, Supreme was sued by Louis Vuitton in 2000 and yet the 2017 collaboration looks exceptionally similar to the offending items…

The last time I shared this story the page was just at 2k followers. With the collaboration officially announced today- and the page having 40k more followers since then- I figure it’s time to re-share. The year was 2000, and a 6 year old Supreme took their hands at referencing a high fashion brand as they did early on (Burberry, Gucci,) this time with Louis Vuitton. Box Logo tees (and stickers), beanies, 5 panels, bucket hats, and skateboard decks all featured the Supreme Monogram logo (pictured right). Within two weeks, Vuitton sends in a cease and desist and apparently, ordered Supreme to burn the remaining available stock. Clearly, many of the products from 2000 are still in the resell market, circulating today. Now we arrive at today’s FW Louis Vuitton fashion show. As most everyone is aware by now, Supreme is in fact collaborating with the luxury brand for a July- into fall collection. I’ve seen quite a few pieces from the collaboration (20+, check @supreme__hustle @supreme_access and @supreme_leaks_news for more pics) and it’s panning out to be Supremes largest collaboration to date. It’s interesting to see the references of both brands within the collaboration- from old Dapper Dan bootleg Louis pieces, to authentic ones, to Supremes monogram box logo and skateboard desks (pictured left). 17 years later and @mrkimjones proves that time can mend all wounds (amongst other things). Excited to see what all will release alongside this legendary collaboration. #supremeforsale #supreme4sale

A photo posted by Supreme (@supreme_copies) on

The new customers

North East Asia’s fast growing economies had been borne out of learning from developed market expertise, state directed focus on exports and ruthless weeding out of weaker businesses. Intellectual property was cast aside at various points. Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and China went from making knock-off products to displacing Europe and the US as the leading luxury markets.

Asian luxury consumers, particularly those second generation rich in China were younger than the typical customer luxury brands cater too. These consumers bought product as they travelled taking in style influences as they went. First from nearby markets like Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore and then Korea. This drew from a melange of hip hop, streetwear, Buffalo styling and contemporary western designers like Vivienne Westwood – as well as the more matronly styles of the traditional European luxury houses.

The luxury brands had to adapt. They brought in new designers who themselves were drawing from similar influences.  These designers also collaborated with sportswear brands like Alexander McQueen and Puma or Jeremy Scott and Raf Simons for Adidas.

Luxury brands got seriously into new product categories making luxe versions of training shoes that could be charitably called a homage to the like of Nike’s Air Force 1.

Bringing things full circle

As the supreme_copies Instagram account notes the collaboration with Supreme and Louis Vuitton brings things full circle with the pieces having a nod to Dapper Dan’s custom work as well as Supreme’s own ‘homage’.  Luxury brand MCM (Michael Cromer München), which Dan borrowed from extensively in the 1980s was restructured in 1997 with shops and brand being sold separately. The brand was eventually acquired eight years later by the Korean Sungjoo Group. Korea now has its own fast developing luxury fashion and cosmetics brand industry. Textile city Deagu which was the likely source of Dapper Dan’s fabric is now a fashion and luxury business hub in its own right. The Korean entertainment industry is a trend setter throughout Asia. For instance, Hallyu drama My Love From A Star drove breakout sales for the Jimmy Choo ‘Abel’ shoe.

The only question I still have is why did a move like Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Supreme take so long? The luxury brands spend a lot on customer insight, they were using social listening far longer than they had been on social media. They know that a customer wearing their jacket could have a Visivim backpack slung over the shoulder and a pair of Adidas Stan Smiths on their feet. Customers mix-and-match Buffalo style for all but the most formal occasions. For streetwear brands, collaboration is in their DNA and they get an additional leg-up in the quality stakes.

More information
Ray Petri
How Buffalo shaped the landscape of 80s fashion – Dazed
Dave Dorrell interview part one | Test Pressing
Dapper Dan
Barbara Kruger Responds to Supreme’s Lawsuit: ‘A Ridiculous Clusterf**k of Totally Uncool Jokers’ | Complex
Volume and wealth make Chinese millennials a lucrative target market: GfK | Luxury Daily
Just why are Louis Vuitton and other high-end retailers abandoning China? | South China Morning Post – although Chinese shoppers consumed 46 per cent of luxury goods around the world, their purchases in their home market accounted for only 10 per cent of global sales, falling from 11 per cent in 2012 and 13 per cent in 2013
How a Jimmy Choo Shoe Became a Global Best Seller – WSJ

Great example of YouTube ad targeting really well done

I had a quick look at the news announced at music technology show NAMM -its CeBIT or CES for DJs and music producers and came across a great review by Magnetic Magazine of Denon’s new DJ product range.
great targeting

But the marketer in me picked up on the great ad placement by Pioneer on the YouTube video which took much of the benefit out of the great PR opportunity that Denon had on their hands.

You would have to be a pretty mean spirited marketing manager to have a minor grumble about the art work being covered up in the bottom right hand corner with ‘Ads by Google’.

Throwback gadget: shareware

Back before the internet became ubiquitous, software was distributed by bulletin boards. It was expensive to dial into a board, so magazines uses to have storage media pre-loaded with applications on the front of them.

For much of the late 1990s and early 2000s my parents used to use MacFormat magazine CDs and floppy disks as coffee coasters. One disk may come with bloatware such as the installation software for AOL, Demon or Claranet. The other disk would be full of free or paid for software.

The paid for software was often written by a single developer. It was a labour of love / cottage industry hybrid. Often the developers wrote the software to deal with a real need that they had, it was then passed on as they thought others would benefit as well.

Open source software the way we understand it now was only in its infancy in terms of public awareness. Packaged software was big money. As recent as 2000, Microsoft Office for the Mac would have cost you £235. Quark Xpress – the Adobe Indesign of its day would have cost in the region of £700+ VAT.

Into the gap sprung two types of software: freeware and shareware.

Freeware was usually provided as is, there was little expectation of application support. It would become orphaned when the developer moved on to other things

ChocoFlop Shareware Style

 

Shareware usually had different mechanisms to allow you to try it, if you could see the benefit then you paid a fee. This unlocked new features, or got rid of nag screens (like the one from image editing app Chocoflop).

In return you also got support if there was any problems with the app. Shareware hasn’t died out, but has become less visible in the world of app stores. One that I have been using on and off for over 20 years is GraphicConvertor by Lemke Software. It handles any kind of arcane graphic file you can throw at it and converts it into something useable.

Kagi Software were one of the first people to provide programmers with a way of handling payments and software activation. Kagi provided an onscreen form to fill out, print, and mail along with their payment. it was pre-internet e-commerce.

I can’t remember exactly what utility programme I first bought for my college PowerBook, but I do remember that I sent the printed form and cheque to a developer in Glasgow. I got a letter back with an activation code and a postcard (I’ve now lost) from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Later on, Kagi were one of the first online payment processors.

From the late 1990s FTP sites and the likes of download.com began to replace the magazine disk mount covers. Last year Kagi died, making life a little more difficult for the worldwide cottage industry of small software developers. it was inconvenient, but now with PayPal developers have an easy way to process payments and there are various key management options.

It’s time that we talk about micro-influencers

Much of the social marketing today for consumer brand is done through what is called influencer marketing. For a number of these influencers who have a large social following, working with brand has become very lucrative. But one of the hottest tickets at the moment within communications agencies are ‘micro-influencers’; Edelman Digital lists it as a key area in Digital Trends Report . There is widely cited research by Marketly that claims there is an engagement ceiling (at least on Instagram). Once a follower count gets beyond that, engagement rates decline. This micro-influencer sweet spot is apparently 1,000 – 100,000 followers.

What are micro-influencers?

Brown & Fiorella (2013) described micro influencers

Adequately identifying prospective customers, and further segmenting them based on situations and situational factors enables us to identify the people and businesses – or technologies an channels that are closest to them in each scenario. We call these micro-influencers and see them as the business’s opportunity to exert true influence over the customer’s decision-making process as opposed to macro-influencers who simply broadcast to a wider, more general audience.

Brown & Fiorella wanted to focus on formal prospect detail capture and conversion. It sounds like an adjunct to integrating marketing automation from the likes of Hubspot and Marketo into a public relations campaign.

This approach is more likely to work in certain circumstances:

  • Low barrier to conversion (e-tailing)
  • Business-to-business marketing – for instance Quocirca did some interesting research back in 2006 that showed endorsements by a finance directors peers at other companies was likely to have a positive effect on a prospective supplier

Brown & Fiorella’s thinking tends to fall down, when you deploy their approach to:

  • Consumer marketing
  • Mature product sectors
  • Mature brands

Brand preference and purchase is much more dependent on reach and repetition to build familiarity and being ‘top-of-mind’ as a product.

Most money in influence marketing is spent in the consumer space as B2B marketing tends to struggle with:

  • Reach
  • Volume of conversation interaction

(At least outside of the US).

Brown and Fiorella are 180 degrees away from the approach of consumer marketing maven Byron Sharp and his ‘smart’ mass marketing approach. This means that PR and social agencies are often out-of-step with the thinking of marketing clients, their media planners and other agency partners.

Engagement matters less than reach or repetition of brand message for mature sectors or brands. For many consumer brands the drop off in engagement amongst macro-influencers is a non-issue, a red herring.

The only part of the engagement measure that I would be concerned about in that case would be content propagation amongst my defined target audience – how widely had it been repeatedly shared as this would affect total reach.

If the client and planner are using Sharp’s thinking then this audience would be wide, but a certain amount of the propagation would be wasted – for instance outside targeted geographies.

From the perspective of communications agencies I can understand the obsession with engagement being part of their DNA. These businesses are in the offline world are engagement agencies; whether its politicians, regulators, fashion stylists, movie set designers, editors, journalists, TV producers or DJs.

Why are micro-influencers a hot topic now?

The most obvious reason is that more popular ‘macro-influencers’ are well informed about their commercial value which has been driven up to a point where they look expensive in terms of cost, even if you charitably look at it on a ‘per follower’ basis.

On the supply side of the equation influencer representation benefit from having more ‘inventory’ that can be sold at various price points to marketers.

Challenges in influencer marketing

From a marketing perspective there are a number of issues in influencer marketing – these factors are either unknown data points or represent an issue with the brand experience

  • Quality of brand placement
  • Cost per reach
  • Consistency of reach (how confident is the media planner that the influencer will achieve a certain level of reach)
  • Message repetition amongst the audience that I want to reach

Which makes it harder to factor into an econometric model that would help justify the investment in influencer marketing as a contribution to sales.

Let’s have a look at data around a campaign for a smartphone manufacturer that has been touted as successful by the agency involved. We don’t know the cost as its likely to be client confidential.

  • 2 million YouTube views (we don’t know how many of these were driven by advertising)

  • 75,000 likes

  • 13,587,159 impressions driven by 6 influencers

  • 10,689 clicks from 90 posts

  • 10 million impressions for the promotion of a colour variant of the smartphone model and 92,320 engaged

  • 4.6% engagement rate (which we’re assured is 41% higher than the industry average for branded content)

What this doesn’t tell us:

  • Reach amongst target audience
  • Repetition amongst target audience

Which could then be used to provide an estimate of its contributory factor to sales if you had an econometrics model. You can’t access how it works next to other tactics and there are limited outtakes for the learning marketing organisation.

Quality of brand placement

Many brands have struggled to get their brand in the influencers content in a way that:

  • Represents it in a meaningful way (for example beyond unboxing videos, one smartphone looks rather like another)
  • Doesn’t feel ad-hoc or awkward

Some luxury brands have managed to get around this by keeping control of the content; a good example of this is De Grisogono – a family-run high jewellery and luxury watch brand. They work with fashion bloggers that meet their high standards and invite them to events. (It’s obviously an oversight on their part that I haven’t had an invite yet.)

De Grisogono provides them with high-quality photography of its pieces and the event. They get the best of both worlds: influencer marketing but with a high standard of brand presentation which raises the quality of the achieved reach.

There is a school of thought that micro-influencers will be easier to manage in order to assure quality of brand placement. However, micro-influencers are likely to be aspiring macro-influencers and each will have a clear line of demarcation in their own head that they won’t cross. The reality is one of complexity dependent on:

  • Brand power
  • Relationships
  • Credibility of proposed idea
  • Impact on aspirations – could they get more followers by taking a stand and strategically burning a brand?

Cost per reach

Influencers tend to talk about themselves in terms of the number of followers that they have. However many followers seldom engage with the influencers content. This happens for a number of reasons:

  • The follow button is often used as a book mark or a like button
  • Algorithmic changes to social platforms and the volume of the social firehouse itself drown out brands (and these influencers are all about the brand of ‘me’). Whatley and Manson’s research at Ogilvy on the decline of organic reach in Facebook pages  is worthwhile having a look at

Followers as a data point is not the straight analogue of reach that the industry and influencers would have you believe based on how they present their data.

Reach numbers that are presented are often not that much more useful:

follower

(Data via Golin, TapInfluence and Marriott)

Consistency of reach

So influencers may give us follower numbers or ‘total reach’ calculations but how do we know what reach their brand placement content is likely to achieve? At the moment, I don’t know how consistent influencers are, I have a ‘personal time’ data project currently in progress on it. More on that hopefully in a later post. There isn’t off-the-peg data that I know of, so I am pulling together a data set.

Message repetition

Until we understand the ‘quality of brand placement’ we wouldn’t be able to understand whether a piece of influencer content was a point of content delivery. We’d also need to know do audiences of influencer A also look at media channels or other influencers that we have in our overall media plan. There often isn’t an overall media plan and there often isn’t sufficient quality of audience data for influencers.

More information
Edelman Digital Trends Report – (PDF) makes some interesting reading
Instagram Marketing: Does Influencer Size Matter? | Markerly Blog
Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing by Danny Brown & Sam Fiorella ISBN-13: 978-0789751041 (2013)
Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach

Belated Christmas Gift: updated set of marketing data slides

I started pulling together and publishing different data sets focused on online marketing from social platforms to the size of mobile screens. I think that it might be useful for strategists and planners. Feel free to use. If you do find them useful drop me a note. You can scroll through the embedded version below and download the PowerPoint version here.

Opportunities for PR and brand communications from 2017 onwards

2016 has been a watershed year in the western world. Political forces that were simmering, but previously untapped manifested themselves in populist victories. Political norms that were common currency for the past two decades have been brought into question and there will be societal impacts and changes in consumer tastes.

Businesses are being buffeted by these changes. In the case of the UK; supply chains will be re-engineered over the next two years to address the country’s departure from the European economic bloc. Most companies that I have spoken to are working on the assumption of the hardest Brexit:

  • No trade agreement with the EU
  • No customs union with the EU
  • No passporting for services such as banking
  • No agreement on storage of EU or US personal data in the UK
  • No free movement of EU talent
  • Problems with the WTO as countries look to settle scores like ownership of the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar

This presents communications teams with opportunities and challenges:

  • There will be new regulatory and legal environments for companies to navigate
  • Corporate and social responsibility programmes will need to be recalibrated
  • There will be change management as jobs are moved abroad and facilities closed
  • Brands will have to work smarter with less
  • Consumer data based systems will need to be redesigned to meet the new legal and country boundaries imposed upon it
  • UK businesses will need to prepare for permanent handicap on their profits

There is also a wave of change for consumer businesses. Whole categories of products – carbonated drinks, cereals and spreads are losing market share to substitute products. This is hitting the large FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) brands including:

  • Unilever
  • Coca-Cola
  • General Mills
  • Nestle
  • Kelloggs

Consumer brands have looked to counteract this in a number of ways:

  • Putting their spend where it will do the best work by using zero-based budgeting (ZBB)
  • Restructuring brand architectures – moving away from preventing brand damage through brand extension to brand consolidation to maximise the benefit of marketing spend. Coca-Cola is a prime example of this
  • Brand architecture will create a tension in the organisation. On the one hand the societal norm will be for local brands rather than global, on the other you have the corporate desire to cut and simplify to maintain margins. Whilst some companies may kill brands, others may sell them on to local companies, which will then try to squeeze as much value out of the brand equity as they can
  • Move away from micro-targeting to ‘smart’ mass-marketing – the key exponent of this is Byron Sharp at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute at the University of South Australia

Opportunities in terms of new products that communications agencies can offer

  • Internal communications programme – site shutdown or company shutdown as a product
  • CSR audit as product
  • CRM (customer relationship management) audit as product

Focus on clients based on their strategic intent if they are implementing ZBB, here’s a quick guide I did earlier this year.

Businesses have six paths to growth
Zero-Based Budgeting

Path versus agency discipline
Zero-Based Budgeting

If your client programme lies in parts of the spectrum where you won’t benefit, then as an agency you have a few choices:

  • Identify and grow your business within other brands of a clients business
  • Look at rivals for opportunities
  • Treat the current business as a cash cow

A second aspect of risk analysis is brand consolidation. There is not much that an agency can do with the change in brand architecture like Coca-Cola. The clients are likely to cut costs.

A clearer source of risk will be ‘local gems’ this is a consumer brand that is only sold in one country (it may be known under a different name in other countries). These brands are likely to be closed down or sold on, particularly if they are in declining growth sectors such as margarine spreads, cereals or carbonated drinks.

If you have only started planning about looking for replacement brands in your portfolio, it may already be too late. Best case scenario is that the brand is bought by a local FMCG company.

Looking at previous brand sales like Radion washing powder as an example the acquirers will not support it with significant marketing spend. Instead, they will look to maximise their investment by mining existing brand loyalty and awareness.  Depending on the product category and the target audience will depend on how fast inevitable brand decline will be.

Either way it is not a particularly attractive piece of business or large or medium-sized agencies. An incumbent agency will have to repitch for the work as it will fall outside the purview of existing contracts and business relationships.

Advertising agencies have a head start in terms of their planners having a clear grip on what Sharp’s concept of smart mass marketing means for their discipline. PR agencies need to articulate this and reflect it in their account planning. They are still struggling to get to grips with social and are championing concepts like ‘micro-influencers’; that don’t fit into Sharp’s world view. They are effectively burning client respect.

PR agencies need to think much more in terms of programme audience reach and repetition for audiences, rather than the current focus on influence.

Pre Black Friday email marketing

I started receiving ‘Black Friday’ emails since the beginning of November. I eventually gave in and opened Apple’s email which arrived on the Tuesday morning.

Here’s what it looked like on mobile (iPhone 7 Plus)
Black Friday mobile email
Here is what it looked like on desktop email
Black Friday Desktop Email
Here is what the landing page looked like
Black Friday landing page

The call to action was to come back on Friday for great deals. There was a missed opportunity there was no reminder mechanism, no suggestion to bookmark the page and no way to build a list of things to purchase on the Friday.

Judging by the artwork, Apple wants the big push to be around the Apple Watch 2. Given the overall performance of smart watches as a sector this might be a bit ambitious, or indicate a supply chain imbalance in other product lines like the iPhone 7 and the new MacBook Pro?

If it was about lower price points, I would have thought that there would be more of a push on stocking fillers like the Airport Extreme or Apple TV to build buzz and store traffic?

The language was quite interesting

Our one-day shopping event will be here before you know it. Come back this Friday to tick everyone off your list

‘Tick everyone off’ in British English also means – annoy everyone or make them upset. Perhaps the copywriting could do with some finessing, given how that this is likely to be viewed at a glance if Apple is lucky by many consumers.

Thoughts on the new Apple MacBook Pro

Having slept a few naps contemplating Apple’s new MacBook Pro. I have been a Mac user since it was the mark of eccentricity. I am writing this post on a 13″ MacBook Pro and have a house of other Macs and peripherals.

Theatre
Apple launched a new range of Apple MacBook Pro’s on October 27, 2016. This was a day after Microsoft’s reinvigoration of its Surface franchise.  Apple ignores timing and tries to plough its own furrow. But comparisons by journalists and market analysts are inevitable.

Microsoft has done a very good job at presenting a device that owes its build quality to the schooling that Apple has given to the Shenzhen eco-system over the past two decades.

The focus on touch computing feels like a step on a roadmap to Minority Report style computing interfaces.  Microsoft has finally mastered the showmanship of Apple at its best.

Apple’s presentation trod a well-worn formula. Tim Cook acts as the ringmaster and provides a business update. Angela Ahrendts sits at a prominent place in the audience and appears on a few cut-in shots. Craig Federighi presented the first product setting a light self-depreciating humour with in-jokes that pull the Apple watchers through the fourth wall and draws them inside ‘Apple’. Eddy Cue plays a similar role for more content related products. In that respect they are interchangeable like pieces of Lego.

Phil Schiller came in to do the heavy lifting on the product. While the design had some points of interest including TouchID and the touchpad the ports on the machine are a major issue.

Given the Pro nature of the computer, Apple couldn’t completely hide behind ‘design’ like it has done with the MacBook. So Phil Schiller was given the job of doing the heavy lifting on the product introduction.

There was the usual Jonny Ive voiceover video on how the product was made with identikit superlatives from previous launches. It could almost be done by a bot with the voice of Jonny Ive, rather than disturbing his creative process.

It all felt like it was dialled in, there wasn’t the sense of occasion that Apple has managed in the past.

User experience
Many people have pointed out that Microsoft’s products looked more innovative and seemed to be actively courting the creatives that have been the core of Apple’s support. In reality much of it was smoke and mirrors. Yes Apple has lost some of the video market because its machines just aren’t powerful, in comparison to other workstations out there.

The touch interface is more of a red herring. Ever since the HP-150 – touch hasn’t played that well with desktop computers because content creators don’t like to take their hands too far from the keyboard when work. It ruins the flow if you can touch type; or have muscle memory for your PhotoShop shortcuts.

Apple didn’t invent the Surface Dial because it already had an equivalent made by Griffin Technology – the PowerMate. In fact the PowerMate had originally been available for Windows Vista and Linux as well, but for some reason the device software didn’t work well with Windows 7 & 8.

I can see why Apple has gravitated towards the touchpad instead. But it needed to do a better job telling the story.

Heat
Regardless of the wrong headedness of Microsoft’s announcements, the company has managed to get much of the heat that Apple used to bring to announcements. By comparison Apple ploughed exactly the same furrow as it has done for the past few years – the products themselves where interchangeable.

The design provided little enthusiasm amongst the creatives that I know, beyond agitation at the pointless port changes and inconvenience that conveyed.

While these people aren’t going to move to Microsoft, the Surface announcements provided them with a compare and contrast experience which agitated the situation further.  To quote one friend

Apple doesn’t know who it is. It doesn’t know its customers and it no longer understands professionals.

Design
Apple’s design of the MacBook Pro shows a good deal of myopia. Yes, Apple saved weight in the laptops; but that doesn’t mean that the consumer saves weight. The move to USB C only has had a huge impact. A raft of new dongles, SD card readers and adaptors required. If like me you present to external parties, you will have a Thunderbolt to VGA dongle.

With the new laptop, you will need a new VGA dongle, and a new HDMI dongle. I have £2,000 of Thunderbolt displays that will need some way of connecting to Apple’s new USB C port. I replace my displays less often than my laptop. We have even earlier displays in the office.

Every so often I transfer files on to a disk for clients with locked down IT systems. Their IT department don’t like file transfer services like WeTransfer or FTP. They don’t like shared drives from Google or Box. I will need a USB C to USB adaptor to make this happen. Even the encrypted USB thumb drive on my ‘real life’ key chain will require an adaptor!

I will be swimming in a sea of extra cables and parts that will weigh more than the 1/2 pound that Apple managed to save. Thank you for nothing, Apple.  Where interfaces have changed before there was a strong industry argument. Apple hit the curve at the right time for standards such as USB and dispensing with optical drives.

The move to USB C seems to be more about having a long thing slot instead of a slightly taller one. Getting rid of the MagSafe power connector has actually made the laptop less safe. MagSafe is a connector that is still superior to anything else on the market.  Apple has moved from an obsession with ‘form and function’ to ‘form over function’.

The problem is one of Apple’s own making: it has obsessed about size zero design since Steve Jobs used to have a Motorola RAZR.

Price versus Value
So despite coming with a half pound less mass and a lot of inconvenience, the devices come in at $200 more expensive than their predecessors. It will be harder for Apple customers to upgrade to this device unless their current machine is at least five years old. I don’t think that this laptop will provide the injection in shipments that Apple believes it will.

A quick word on displays
Apple’s move away from external displays was an interesting one. There can’t be that much engineering difference between building the iMac and the Apple Display? Yet Apple seems to have abandoned the market. It gives some professionals a natural break point to review whether they should stay with Apple. Apple displays aren’t only a product line but a visible ambassador of Apple’s brand where you can see the sea of displays in agencies and know that they are an Apple shop. It is the classic ‘Carol Bartz’ school of technology product management.

More information
Initial thoughts on Windows 8 | renaissance chambara
Size Zero Design | renaissance chambara
Why I am sunsetting Yahoo! | renaissance chambara
Apple just told the world it has no idea who the Mac is for – Charged Tech – Medium
Apple (AAPL) removed MagSafe, its safest, smartest invention ever, from the new MacBook Pros — Quartz
How Apple’s New MacBook Pros Compare To Microsoft’s New Surface Studio | Fast Company | Business + Innovation – a subtly cutting article on the new MacBook Pro
New MacBook Pro touches at why computers still matter for Apple | CNet
Apple’s new MacBook Pro kills off most of the ports you probably need | TechCrunch

Can Brexiters and Remoaners segmentation be part of a marketing strategy?

This chain of thought got fired up when my Facebook filled up with calls to petition British Airways to strop the distribution of the Daily Mail, mainly because of headlines like:
mail headline
There are at least 16 million consumers that would broadly fit within the headline. When one looks at the demographic split of leave versus remain voters you start to see clear segmentation ideal for marketing opportunity.

You already have brands doing this in the U.S. for instance standing up for LGBT rights. Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s have come out in support of Black Lives Matter.

Now lets look at research done into the demographics of the voters.

Much has been made of the splits in UK society:

Young people who voted tended toward Remain; the older you were the more likely you would be a Brexiter

(73%) of 18 to 24 year-olds voted to remain…

A majority of those aged over 45 voted to leave, rising to 60% of those aged 65 or over

Working class areas outside London and other major cities voted to leave

The AB social group (broadly speaking, professionals and managers) were the only social group among whom a majority voted to remain (57%). C1s divided fairly evenly; nearly two thirds of C2DEs (64%) voted to leave the EU

Labour claimed that a majority of Labour supporters who voted voted remain

Nearly two thirds of Labour and SNP voters (63% and 64%), seven in ten Liberal Democrats and three quarters of Greens, voted to remain

The correlation between class and voting broke down in Scotland and Northern Ireland were working class areas outside major cities narrowly voted to stay.

Some of it was certainly a protest vote, large swathes of the country feel that they have been ignored by a professional city-orientated political class. As the Political Economy Research Centre reflected:

The geography of leave voters reflected the economic crisis of the 1970s, not the 2010s.

Concerns about financial future and family’s well being were stressors rather than root causes. Research attributed it to more deep seated attitudes that shaped world view.

Work by the London School of Economics showed that when  attitudes were mapped against income level; working class status wasn’t as much a deciding factor as pollsters would have had one believe, instead it seemed to correlate close to personality traits.

Closedness and openess

Back in the 1950s American academics sought to answer the question of how Hitler and Mussolini  could have become so popular in what were initially democratic societies? What they and subsequent research found was that a certain amount of  a given population tend to have more of a closedness (or authoritarian dynamic) in their world view.

This can be amplified through:

  • Culture
  • Fear
  • Change
  • Economic insecurity

They look for strong leaders and simple answers. Nostalgia and the past is reassuring. They are less interested in ‘sensation seeking’ and want to fit in.

Liberal values tended to be more orientated towards aspects of openness that embrace newness, sensations, innovation and change.

The Google Trends spike

Much was made of a post-election Google Trends spike on searches such as ‘What is Brexit?’ as a demonstration of a key democracy failing. According to political scientists voters having an understanding of what they are voting for is key in a democracy. If it were true it would cast a shadow on the likelihood of the underlying electorate traits being useful for segmentation. The Google Trends story wasn’t necessarily correct; (but it was great fodder for the news cycle)

  • Google Trends is about the rate of change in searches, so it might be moved dramatically by a relatively small amount of searches
  • Having been working on using Google Trends, we’ve found that there are inconsistencies in data in terms of timing and peaks depending on which IP address it is drawn from and what is the exact mix of terms compared.
  • There is nothing but a hypothesis to associate the peak with people who were eligible to vote.

National versus international businesses

There are a number of British brands on the high street that are geographically focused for whom taking a resolute Brexit stamp would not cause brand harm or investor protest. Examples of this would be Tesco – who have pared back their international footprint and are likely to continue to do so, Wetherspoons, Poundstretcher and payday loans brands like Wonga.com.

For more internationally orientated publicly listed companies, the UK becomes less attractive. Senior government thought leaders such as conservative MP John Redwood have made it clear ‘interference’ including voicing concerns about the Brexit process would be unwelcome.

…companies who did not stay silent on the country’s EU membership would pay a “very dear economic and financial price”.

Chief executives who decide to take a corporate position on the issue could lose their jobs while those campaigning against membership would ensure there were financial consequences…

As the UK becomes a more isolated economy  two steps behind its European peers there could be a temptation to spin off their UK business. This could happen in two ways.

Selling on local gem brands (brands with only significant sales in the local country). Examples could be brands like:

  • Ambrosia
  • Hovis
  • Cabrini sportswear
  • K cider
  • Barclays
  • Wonga.com
  • Royal London

Alternatively disposing of UK subsidiaries would make sense as Brexit represents a permanent reduction reduction in profit margins. For someone like McDonald’s Restaurants, that would likely mean pressing ahead with an ‘all-franchise’ model in a similar approach to what it has taken recently in China.

In order to sell they are likely to require some sort of assets rather than just a sales agreement with the parent company. If they have become only a UK sales organisation, then the viability of this approach depends on the supply chain. One way of adding value into the supply chain would be for these businesses to open up a direct sales channel.

Companies like Unilever already look at how they can integrate into supermarkets supply chain, with ‘buy it now’ buttons on their own site that take you to their online retail partners. They could also open up a direct e-commerce channel; given the Marmitegate debacle with Tesco; expect examination of alternative business models like America’s Dollar Shave Club and Amazon’s Dash.

Modern international brands are already used to marketing towards the ‘open consumer’ who was likely to vote remain. Products that feel up to date, innovative and socially responsible.  A classic example would be Dove, Innocent smoothies, AirBnB or the average family car.

Marketing to the Brexiter

A local business for local people with brands that appeal to leave voter demographics could be more explicit in courting leave voter’s spend.

Tapping into the ‘authoritarian outlook’ would mean tapping into nostalgia; throw-back branding and possibly rolling back political correctness in the name of common sense.

An extreme outcome could be Robertsons bringing back their original Golly character; though thankfully I suspect that would be step too far – even in post-Brexit Britain.
The Robertson's golly

Rejection of expert is partly down to wanting a reduction in complexity. This has huge implications for a wide range of products, particularly in the financial services sector or mobile tariffs.

Choice is the enemy, a simple product, down-to-earth, unambiguous in its claims. Mobile tariffs without bolt-on features, complex phone upgrade cycles or value-added services. In the case of pensions and insurance, with the assurance that they could help ward off a sinister future full of negative change rather than rich rewards. Perceived good value wouldn’t do any harm either.

In terms of how the product or service fits into the Brexiter’s life it is less about being part of a creative expression of individuality. Instead it is more about the ‘grey man’; blending in. Blending in is a threat coping mechanism, a form of risk reduction (think Dilbert cartoons). It shouldn’t mistaken for being more community-spirited, instead the community is of mutual convenience – a shoal of people.  A consequence of this is that persona creation becomes harder or derivative, the stellar insight from the planner loses its gloss. Agency creatives are likely to struggle with consumer empathy beyond utility.

From the advertisers perspective; blunt simplicity rather than clever creative. Audience reach is still important, but a higher frequency is likely required to achieve a comparable impact. This is to get over the Brexiter’s higher degree of inertia to marketing and making them feel that accepting the brand is part of conforming within society. It is part of the eco-system, traditional brands have an advantage due to their familiarity and heritage. Even if its a new brand it feels as if it has always been part of the consumers fabric.

More information
Ben & Jerry’s came out in support of Black Lives Matter. Naturally, some cops are freaking out | Fusion
Business Leaders Speak Out Against North Carolina’s Transgender Law | Wall Street Journal
These 70 Corporations Want to Block North Carolina’s Transgender Bathroom Law | CBN News (US news outlet for the evangelical christian audience)
How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why | Lord Ashcroft Polls
How Demographics Decided Brexit | The Market Oracle
How has Brexit changed the mindset of a nation? | Bucks New University Business School
How do Britain’s ethnic minorities view the EU referendum? | Kings College London
Making Sense of Brexit – the data you need to analyse | UK Data Service
Who is voting to leave the EU and why? | openDemocracy UK
Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit | Political Economy Research Centre
The 2016 Referendum, Brexit and the Left Behind: An Aggregate-Level Analysis of the Result by Goodwin and Heath – PDF
Businesses that speak out for Britain’s EU membership will be punished, vows John Redwood | The Telegraph
UK voters don’t understand Brexit, Google searches suggest | Ars Technica UK
Marmitegate is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ as cheese, chocolate and wine all face ‘punishing tariffs’, Nick Clegg claims | The Telegraph
It’s NOT the economy, stupid: Brexit as a story of personal values | British Politics and Policy blog | LSE
Brexiters would rather trust the wisdom of ordinary people than the opinion of experts | Quartz
The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter | Politico
Brexit Voters: NOT the Left Behind | Fabian Society
Authoritarianism and Political Behavior by Janowitz & Marvick | Public Opinion Quarterly (Summer 1953)
Voters’ personality traits in presidential elections by Barbaranelli, Caprara, Vecchione and Fraley | Personality and Individual Differences 42 (2007) – PDF document
Personality Traits, Partisan Attitudes, and Voting Behavior. Evidence from Germany by Schoen | Political Psychology (August 2007) – PDF document
Grey Man Strategies 101: Peeling Away the Thin Veneer of Society | Imminent Threat Solutions
How To: The Modern Grey Man Philosophy | Loaded Pocketz
EU referendum results | The Electoral Commission

According to Google, PR and SEO are no longer earned media-only disciplines

Back in August Google started to roll out changes to its Keyword Planner tool. Users who did not have an active AdWords campaign running on there account would no longer get search volume data. Instead an indicative range appeared.
Crippled version of Google Keyword Planner
Information that isn’t particularly useful.

Search volume as a directional metric is important for both online and offline communications:

  • Public relations and branding specialists to understand the language of the customer. PRs would use it to help hone key messages. Branding specialists would use it to help the brand lexicon or editorial guide
  • SEO specialists use this information as part of their process to pick the most important key words for a web page or website

Now PR people and branding specialists need to have access to an account with a continuous advertising spend running. Even if they aren’t doing any online-related work themselves.

The road to paid media only access has been a long one: KeyWord Planner had been announced in 2013, a result of Google rationalising some of the existing tools into one. Keyword Tool and Traffic estimator merged. KeyWord Planner was notable for requiring an AdWords account, this was a noticeable change and not too subtle hint from Google.

Unlike other product changes this latest ‘enhancement’ was not announced on any of the Google product blogs like Inside AdWords, but instead was acknowledged retrospectively by a Google spokesperson answering a question from Search Engine Land. It has been up to the community to explore the full implications.

One aspect is that if you reduce your Google advertising spend, you lose access to the data. So, PR, branding and SEO become inextricably linked with PPC advertising.  Critics could accuse Google of abusing its market power with 95%+ share of search in Europe; but Google would argue that it has had to move this way because of bad actors. Secondly, since the service had been provided for free since it was launched at the end of 2008, there is never any guarantee that it would be free to use.

Google now has antitrust investigations coming at it in markets around the world, they probably just don’t care any more and its all about profit maximisation. If one looks at the Alphabet Group overall, Google is the obvious cash cow.

However it is ironic now that Russian search engine Yandex via its Wordstat tool provides better free information on search volumes than Google.

More information
What the heck is going on with Google Keyword Planner? | Search Engine Journal
Introducing Keyword Planner: combining the Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator into One | Google Inside AdWords blog
Announcing the Search-based Keyword Tool | Google Inside AdWords blog
Yandex Wordstat

Modern PR impact and consequences

Jessica Lessin wrote a great piece in The Information about her perspective as a journalist on how the practice of (tech) PR had changed (at least in Silicon Valley). The New PR Reality and What it Means outlines a number of traits emblematic of modern PR:

  • Press release as op ed piece on corporate or executive blog to promote one “story of record” about whatever you want to announce
  • Lessin considered exclusives with a friendly publication to be another variant of the same strategy
  • Lessin laments the demise of the press conference and the access that it brings to corporate executives for journalists.

Lessin also warns that the lack of information and dialogue reduces the variations and reflections on would see on the story in terms of analysis. The audience needs to have a greater capacity for critical thinking and a certain amount of cynicism to ask why?

The silicon valley bubble

Lessin and peers like Kara Swisher got to see an industry mature over time. They were in the right part of the world to build face-to-face relationships with the people that mattered.

The reality for journalists outside the Silicon Valley area was generally less access. 80 percent of the time when I arranged media access to my clients it was a ‘down-the-line’ telephone interview.

As an outsider who has had the opportunity observe public relations and media relationships in silicon valley I was surprised by the cordial differential aspect of it. There generally aren’t that many challenges, dissenting voices are usually shrill and stifled through a lack of access. The classic examples of this are Apple’s relationship with The Register, the 2009 blacklist of CNet by Google over Eric Schmidt’s opinions on privacy or Peter Thiel’s role in putting Gawker Media out of business.

This constriction of debate and access the Lessin cared about is in keeping with wider trend of silicon valley hubris and ego.

The reasons why public relations has changed

In the late 1990s through to the early 2000s the mass media was the best way to talk to the end consumer. Through advertising and PR. PR had a relatively low cost barrier to entry, but was relatively inefficient from a cost-per-reach and campaign impact point of view.

Online advertising offered new dynamics that changed the way marketing money was spent. This meant that you had to do more with  a static or declining marketing spend, this had a number of follow on factors:

  • Less budget for out-of-pocket expenses. The first agency I worked in launched Hitachi Data System’s Skyline Trillium range of IBM-compatiable mainframes. (I know, I know you want to sleep). We took a whole pile of journalists on a helicopter flight over London’s financial district as part of the launch, so they could see the iconic skyline (I know, grown at the crushingly twee creative concept). You just wouldn’t do that now.  There isn’t the money for decent gift bags or cleverly presented press packs either
  • Mid-and-senior agency staff salaries have been static for at least the past decade, which affects the quality of the thinking and the work done

There was also a corresponding change in the way PR was done in order to improve campaign impact. It used to be that you made a big bang  and hoped that the deluge of coverage would provide a 360 experience of sufficient reach, frequency and impact that client commercial goals would be achieved.

That theory fell down. Not only had PR spend changed but publication advertising spend had changed as well. There were less publications and less journalists writing for them. Those that wrote for the publications had to write more content.

That mean’t more time writing, less time research, thinking and networking. Less time to turn up at press conferences. Press conferences became a relatively high risk tactic for the agency PR to recommend; unless you had a landmark event.

What if you throw a press conference and few people show up or don’t stick around. Angela Eagle’s disastrous launch of her campaign to become leader of the UK Labour Party is a case in point.

Through little fault of Eagle’s campaign team, the Conservative leadership competition collapsed leaving Teresa May as prime minster. Eagle ended up with a poorly attended press conference with few questions from the media. Now imagine if a similar scenario happened to a Silicon Valley leader like Larry Ellison.

From an agency perspective this ‘journalist scarcity’ became a catalyst to change the approach to try and drive greater impact of coverage generated. It’s what agencies call ‘story-telling’; you work with a publication to craft all the right conditions including executive access – so that a story will run.

Working with a large corporate means that this takes a lot of time:

  • Building the story first of all, this is your product that you then reverse-engineer the journalist ‘journey’ through. It takes into account areas of interest that they journalist has previously written about, the publication style. The likely word count (a bigger canvas is better)
  • You pitch this to the client. This would include a complete plan including what you hope to get from the publication (likely headlines and synopsis), how this rolls up to business objectives
  • The pitching process to the journalist is a high touch process. The journey that they are taken on might take months based on executive and resource availability (such as lab tours)

With one agency client I worked with, my back-of-a-cigarette-packet maths had some disturbing numbers. Placing a story in the Wall Street Journal cost roughly the same as buying a full page of ad space.

Secondly stories need heroes: people. Bill Gates was framed as a superman – which was torn to shreds in the Judge Jackson anti-trust trial testimonial videos. A more cynical interpretation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would be having at least some role in rehabilitating Gates’ profile as a statesman of the technology sector.

Many of the heroes are drawn from the bench below the CEO; Microsoft used former research head Rick Rashid in that role for a number of years. Google had highlighted Marissa Mayer in a similar role – neither executive now work for those employers.

So how do you make the storytelling process develop greater agility and  become more  scaleable to improve campaign impact and frequency? Social media offered part of the answer for prominent technology companies. Corporate channels became de rigour and new media channels like The Verge and Buzzfeed news sprang up.  The technology sector even bankrolled some of these titles, notably Sarah Lacy’s Pando.

Hubspot have turned this into an industry as this approach is emblematic of the content marketing methods and tools they sell to businesses around the world. Codifying the PR techniques of silicon valley for a wider audience.

More information
The New PR Reality and What it Means | The Information (paywall)
Hitachi (finally) releases Skyline Trinium Nine high-end mainframe | ComputerWorld