The BlogBook

PR Week (subscription required) published the PowerBook this week, featuring 500 of the most prominent people in PR, it had a selection of questions that painted an interesting portrait of the people listed. BlackBerry’s at the ready, with leisure time facilitated by iPods and TiVo-equipped home entertainment systems, they are used to dining in London’s best restaurants – there wasn’t too many surprises amongst the preferences of the 500.

It also struck me that the same questions could paint an interesting picture of the PR blogosphere like Jonny, Mr Hopkins, Drew and James.

Name: Ged Carroll

Job: Lead consultant (EMEA), Digital Strategies Group

Address: Waggener Edstrom Worldwide 10 Southampton Street London WC2E 7HA

Telephone: 44 20 7632 3800

Born: 1970

Place of birth: Liverpool

Lives: London

Family: No

Best career move: Getting made redundant from my blue-collar job in the oil industry, which set me on my current career path.

Which company / brand do you most admire? Rolex

Which business / organisation leader do you most admire? Larry Weber (W2 Group)

Boss who most inspired you: Kirsty Leighton

Most essential read: Wired magazine

Most essential viewing / listening: Wall Street Journal Tech News Briefing podcast

Favourite web link: pbs.org/cringely

Favourite gadget: Apple MacBook Pro

Most respected journalist: Robert X. Cringely (aka Mark Stephens)
Most respected politician: A toss up between former president Mary Robinson, Moshe Dayan and Michael Collins (and yes I do know the last two are dead).

What is your favourite place for lunch? Wagamama

Name one thing about yourself that may surprise others: I used to be a shift leader in an oil refinery

Guilty pleasure: too many to mention including vinyl records, vintage adidas and mechanical watches

Your ideal epitaph: to not have an epitaph.

User generated content is fine, but put a bouncer on the door

Sites like flickr owe as much to the community management skills as gifted coding. Wired magazine put the latest list of its annual Wired 40 on the web and allowed users to input by rating the decision. However I snapped the following screen picture near the bottom of the list as users have introduced jibberish.

wired pwned.jpg
If Wired is going to harness its readership, it needs to think more carefully about how it manages its constituency and keeps out the riff-raff.

Why Internet bubble 1.0 isn’t like the current market from a PR perspective

VC and pundit Andy Kessler apparently said that ‘history doesn’t repeat, it rhymes’ and for most PR agency people this time the current crop of web start-ups are a discordant verse of haiku.

  • There isn’t a belief that the laws of economic gravity have been suspended (though you could argue this one, with sites like Tape It Off The Internet (TIOTI) not coming under the cosh of big media). The bootstrap mentality of most of these organisations
  • There are no longer incubators like Jelly Works and Oxygen throwing out a raft of businesses (most of which were delivered stillborn), instead the cost of implementation is a lot cheaper and the business may not require external funding until it seeks to go international or needs to scale to match success. However, MyBlogLog with its purchase some five months or so after it was launched does have some incubation traits
  • With the exception of some notable examples like Jobster, start ups are looking to get funding well below 10 million USD The role of venture capitalists have changed from being the money man to being super connectors. I even heard one VC say that allowing his firm in on a deal would give ‘companies all the PR they need’ by nature of being involved with their high-profile firm
  • Conversations that I have had with a number of start-ups have indicated that they are unlikely to use PR as part of their marketing mix
  • Sarbanes Oxley means that for most investors an IPO isn’t an exit strategy, so companies only need enough visibility to get on the radar of the corp. dev. teams at Google, Yahoo! or Microsoft
  • You can register with TechCrunch to give them the skinny on your business without using PRs as an intemediary and the self-confidence of entrepreneurs will allow them to believe the awareness will suddenly come from their blog

With the exception of bandwidth and pizza-box servers there isn’t the same financial feeding frenzy that accompanied the last bubble, management consultants are left to sharpen their pencils as these start-ups follow what is effectively a fast-failure model. Players like Sun have had to rearchitect their offering to an even lower price in order to engage with this new breed of internet entrepreneurs and Amazon’s S3 service allow with Yahoo’s UI API library have allowed entrepreneurs to treat infrastructure as a utility. The media that really matters is not a sophisticated business magazine like The Industry Standard or Red Herring, but micro media often ran by individuals like John Battelle or Michael Arrington.

Venture capitalists are still searching for places to throw their funds under management (whether its viable or not) because the demand from the web is not enough, hence the new focus on green energy and the biosciences: both of which are much more capital intensive.

What does all this mean for PRs?

Well, we will make money as we (and our current clientbase) adapt to the new web realities of a super fragmented media and real-time direct customer interaction, there may even be incremental budget increases to somewhat compensate for the frozen budgets and billing rates that haven’t increased in a decade.

However we are likely to be fought every foot fo the way by advertising agencies and marketing agencies eager to claim this ground for themselves. Soon, probably sooner than many people think an evolution in PR will happen, rather like the way PR adapted to the move from sending out press releases by post to fax blasts and on to email.

There will be few opportunities for working with web 2.0 companies in general, though this may change if they require crisis communications.

I personally think that real opportunity for PR over the next decade will be in brand communications. We have marketing money being poured into transactional marketing, this is based on price. The price of Google Adwords and the price of getting pace on shelf or on web page. With transactional marketing comes less perceived differentiation and lower margins.

Online communications, alongside product and packaging design allows customers to build up a rapport with a brand unencumbered by the media and reduces cognitive dissonance by providing consumers to build their own ’support networks’ through a community of like-minded users. I already have access to this, through the support forums that Apple and Nokia host when I go and look for support information on my MacBook Pro, or my Nokia e61. Companies seem to see things that way themselves with IT directors emphasising the role of web 2.0 as a way of interacting with customers and providing automation. It’s going to be an interesting time.

Rated: Useless?

Jonny Rosemont had a recent posting on his old blog (his shiny new one is here) about three blogging tools that he rates and three which he thinks are tired.

I have a slightly different stance since I got into post-widget stress disorder some 18 months ago and have cleared many of the products he talks about from my blog.

They make the code template messy and often don’t play all that nicely. I ended up with a blog front page that looked like a racing driver’s Nomex boiler suit; covered in all his sponsor’s patches like a psychedelic chess board.

My three rated items would be:

  • Feedburner – I’ve had some hassles with it but its a great service for aggregating both feed and blog traffic numbers, the flares that can be put on posts are useful as well
  • Bloglines – It has a very useful public profile section that is a simpler, more elegant way of maintaining a blogroll (for example)
  • Flickr – provides an elegant way to host my own images, or find someone else’s that would add to a post

The thinking man’s radio station

I have been throwing my iTunes playlist data into last.fm since I found about the Audioscrobbler plug-in before the last.FM brand took off. I found it a useful way to add content on my website and get recommendations from friends playlists.
It was only the other week that I really discovered the value of the service as I had been used to listening to Internet radio stations like Unknown FM or using the Yahoo! Launch (sorry Y! Music) service which runs buggy on my Mac.

I tried last.FM’s service and it was a revelation in terms of music discovery. One of my first finds was the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra – a Tokyo band that does what it says on the tin.

I went on to buy some of their albums on Amazon via the in-player link, something I never expected to do.

Last.FM’s approach with its discovery element proved to be much more compelling existing services.

Contrast to this to the tamer playlists on music services and its like the impact that the iPod had on ClearChannel. According to last.FM’s presentation at FOWA 2007 (Future of Web Apps) this service is based on a relatively meager 700,000 tracks, but in the same way that you are more likely to find the image you want on Flickr than on Google Image Search last.FM’s player comes up with the gold.