Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Successfully marketing the outflow of power plants…

Who’d have thought that there was any good news in the outflow from a power plant?

I couldn’t help but find an excuse to ahem…brag about my trip this weekend to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, and the northern-most capital in the world.

Yesterday, I visited one of Reykjavik’s most famous attractions – the Blue Lagoon. Sounds tropical huh! About as tropical as anything could sound in a country you’d expect to be covered in ice.

So there I was, swimming in the outflow of the Svartsengi geothermal power plant – in a lake full of mineral-rich seawater heated by underground lava. While the outside temperature was about 1C, the water was a bubbling 30C (and hotter in some parts).

Some 70% of visitors to Iceland visit the lagoon. It is believed that the combination of silica mud, salt and blue-green algae can cure psoriasis and eczema. Of course it’s also nice just to have a relaxing soak in a bizarre steamy setting in the middle of a lava field.

That some Icelandic entrepreneurs were able to cash in on this natural phenomenon and market it to the world is amazing. That I’m not glowing green today, is even more amazing!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Farewell to a great leader - Clare Hart moves to Dow Jones

It's not everyday in PR that you have to issue a press release that announces the departure of a senior executive - let alone the CEO of the company. But that's what we did yesterday, fortunately under very positive circumstances.

Our CEO, Clare Hart is leaving her role at Factiva to join Dow Jones as Executive Vice President Dow Jones and President, Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group. She will also become Chair of Factiva's Board. Claude Green, our current Deputy CEO will become Interim CEO until a successor is found.

Within Factiva, it's clear that Clare has had a tremendous impact on creating not only the commercial success the company has enjoyed in its 7-year history, but the vibrant, dynamic culture that streams throughout Factiva's 42 offices worldwide. One of the most consistent observations I’ve heard from colleagues, is about how Clare walks into any Factiva office and knows virtually every employee by name. If she doesn't know someone, she introduces herself to them. With some 800 employees companywide, it's an impressive effort.

It has been a privilege to work with a leader who is so highly respected by employees and customers, media and analysts, partners and the broader business community around the world. From a PR perspective, it certainly makes my job easier! I sincerely hope our next CEO is as “PR-friendly”.

We will all miss Clare, but are equally excited about her success and her new role at Dow Jones. Best of luck Clare!

Monday, February 20, 2006

PW Week predicts blogging revolution will force change in PR

Kate Nicholas’ column in this week’s PR Week ran with the bold headline that blogging will force change in PR.

I agree with Kate’s observations – I don’t think blogging spells the end of public relations professionals altogether, but it certainly does change the dynamics between PRs and journalists, and PRs and their publics. As Kate points out, “it is more likely that we'll see a return to the roots of PR when public relations professionals actually dealt with the public, even if these days it's in a virtual environment.”

Determining how to engage with bloggers still seems to be under debate - do you pre-brief, brief or pitch them like journalists? Do you respond to negative or inaccurate posts consumer-generated media (CGM) in the same way that you would respond to a negative or inaccurate article in the mainstream media? While different companies may implement different policies about dealing with blogs, it is the more progressive companies who are actively monitoring CGM - if you're not aware of a conversation taking place, you can't even begin to participate in it.

Another question is one of how to measure the impact of PR out in the blogosphere. If a company actively wants to engage with bloggers who represent one of their audiences, they need the tools and processes in place to track, measure and evaluate those initiatives.

There are certainly new, sophisticated tools available to do this, for example, the Factiva Insight suite - but I believe that tools are just one part of the broader change in thinking required by public relations professionals to successfully navigate the ever changing media landscape and communicate with their publics in the most effective way.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

What do blackberries and air have in common?

Answer: I need them both to survive.

Ok, it might be a bit of an exaggeration, but only fellow Blackberry users seem to understand the complete horror show that is losing one's Blackberry. I was Blackberry-less (my device doubles as my mobile phone) for a week earlier this month, and it surprised me at how dependent I'd become on it.

It wasn't so much the inconvenience of losing the data - that was all stored back on my laptop at the office and restored easily onto the replacement device. It wasn't even the security aspect, because the device was locked and password-protected, and the supplier was able to suspend the number right away. Nor was it the mobile phone aspect because I went back to an ancient pre-paid handset.

What was most annoying about the whole Blackberry-less experience, was that time spent in cabs, on the Tube and other equally good opportunities to catch up on the day's backlog of email, was now gone. It's always a challenge to get through the seemingly increasingly number of emails that come in (especially when your email address is listed on your company's web site!), but to lose the opportunity to catch up on emails in those weird little free timeslots through the day is grim.

Because I work with colleagues around the world, there are many instances where I have to respond to someone's 'end of day' request, whether it be from Asia at 7.30am GMT or the US at 9.30pm GMT. The Blackberry lets me do this quicky and easily without the hassle of dialing in from home, or waiting around for an email from someone else to come in.

Proponents of the 'Crackberry' line of thinking that Blackberries are addictive may have a point - but having been without mine for a week, I'm more convinced than ever that are they a business critical tool, especially in an industry and role where you need to move information between people very quickly.

Happily, my replacement device is now up and running. And if you recount your story of losing a Blackberry, I will be endlessly empathetic.

How do I love thee...let me analyse the media coverage and sales figures

When I think of Valentines Day, the two brands that first come to mind are Hallmark and Interflora. I’m sure the card and flower markets did a roaring trade this week, but it was interesting to note from a PR perspective that those two companies were not associated highly with the Day of Love by the media.

A search in Factiva Search 2.0 revealed that Marks & Spencer and Barnes & Noble, followed by John Lewis, eBay and Starbucks received the most coverage in relation to the search term ‘Valentine’s day’. Quite surprising results – I’d love to get the respective sales figures for each company to see who profited most from February 14!

And I’m wondering if flowers are on the way out, and other romantic options like dinners, entertainment and luxury gifts are on the way in. All of these industries ranked most prominently in relation to the search term ‘Valentines Day’. Or perhaps retailers of these items ramped up a variety of communications programs to piggyback on the usual Valentines day frenzy.

With the marketing mix comprising so many elements, it can often be difficult to pinpoint which element/s drives sales most effectively.

To prove whether PR does more than build awareness - and actually drives sales - continues to be one of the perennially challenging quests for PR practitioners. We might know anecdotally that our initiatives are causing prospective or existing customers to pick up the phone and place an order, or that they're allowing our salesforce to do the same - easily - because an initiative generated much positive buzz in the media, but often the systems that track and measure business outcomes from point-of-sale, direct or online marketing campaigns are not geared up to evaluate PR campaigns in the same way.

I believe that all PR practitioners need to be aware of the impact of their initiatives on generating sales, and more importantly, committed to developing processes that demonstrate that value.