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Preview: A Surplice of Spin

A Surplice of Spin

A blog about public relations, corporate communications and the news behind the news

Updated: 2018-03-06T07:03:50.464+00:00


A very long time between posts...


Hi there,

Thanks for visiting! I've moved to a new blog:


Some good tips for writing online


Er, it's been a long time between posts!

Came across an interesting post today about myth-bashing in newsrooms from the Media Guardian's, Jemima Kiss. She reviews three main conceptions about online journalism, posed by Online Journalism Review editor Robert Niles.

He says that:
- Detail is good
- Attention spans are not the issue
- Get the figures right

All sage advice really, for anyone writing for an online audience.

New white paper on Social Media


We've just released a new white paper on social media, called Tracking the Influence. Influential web strategist, Jeremiah Owyang and Dow Jones' Matt Toll co-authored the report, which was based on the discussions from a blogger round-table held late last year.

For communications practitioners who are new to the whole social media phenomenon, the white paper basically tries to answer the question "why should I care about it".

It sets the scene with a discussion about the nature of Net-based conversations, the breakdown of barriers between buyer and seller, and the troubling stats that very few people trust CEOs. Troubling if you're in the PR team supporting that CEO and substantially more worrying if you are in fact a CEO.

It then looks at the discussion from the blogger roundtable, which pulled together influential bloggers and communications professionals. The participants sought to define what was important in social media, why we should attempt to measure it, and what those measurements should entail. The concepts of engagement, community, influencers, reach and sentiment generated much debate.

The paper concludes with some ideas around what capabilities an organisation needs to understand and drive sucecss in the world of social media, and lists a stack of helpful resources.

It's worth a read, particularly if you've been getting regular requests from your mates to join facebook, MySpace, Linkedin, Plaxo etc.

New Survey: New Technology Tools Have High Acceptance Rate in Public Relations


We have just completed a survey in conjunction with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) which shows that that new communication technology has been widely accepted by the public relations profession.

The survey, “Wired for Change – A Survey of Public Relations Professionals and Students: Attitudes, Usage and Expectations in the New Communication Technology Environment,” was conducted to gain insight into how the more than 32,000 professional and student members of PRSA and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) view the role of technology in shaping future communication practices.

You can read about the findings in the press release, and there's also a 10-minute webcast of the survey via Webmasterradio.FM.

More hype around Corporate Buzzwords


Word Play once again gets tongues rolling, as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Management Line blogs report on some new Factiva media analysis.

The analysis looks at the frequency of terms such as "fast track", "going forward" (as opposed to "going backwards"), "user friendly", "empower", "downsizing", "multitasking", "core competency", "customer centric", "client focused" and "rightsizing" in the mainstream media, and tabulates them in charts. You can also see which publications most frequently quote these terms, althought bear in mind, it's not necessarily the publications that are the gobbledygook-touting culprits, but the spokespeople they are quoting! There's a healthy discussion going on in the blogs about what other terms annoy people.

My colleague in Australia, Chris Pash, developed the analysis using our recently launched Factiva Insight: Agency Analytics.

Factiva Insight: Agency Analytics is cool because it allows users who are not necessarily familiar with boolean search strings and power searching, to access our vast content collection and media analytics software, to create insightful charts.

The product is designed for PR agency teams who need to create quick but robust media analysis for use in pitch development, account planning and client management. For us, internally, it's a great way to generate meaningful content that gets the Factiva and Dow Jones brands out there.

New white paper available: Best Practices in Media Measurement


Dow Jones recently commissioned Professor Paul Argenti of Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business to write a thought-provoking article about the evolution of and best practices in media measurement.

A key driver of the growing importance of media measurement is the increased number of C-level executives demanding accountability from their communications departments. Without
using new media-intelligence technologies, it is impossible for public relations or communications professionals to be truly accountable, comprehensively monitor media coverage, or make fact-based decisions regarding communications strategies.

This white paper is intended to help communications professionals understand how new media- intelligence technologies are changing their roles. It also provides ideas about how media measurement can be adopted to add more value going forward.

Feel free to download a copy of the article here.

Cynthia leaves hospital


I was really pleased to read this morning that Aussie plane crash survivor and Sydney Morning Herald reporter, Cynthia Banham, is leaving hospital tomorrow.

It's less than four months since she somehow made it out of the horrendous plane crash at Yogyjakarta airport, that claimed the lives of 25 people including 5 Australians.

As I said in a previous post, I truly admire Cynthia's courage and strength of character - both in her survival and her ongoing recovery.

Best wishes to you Cynthia.

What price reputation: BusinessWeek article references Factiva Insight


This week, a BusinessWeek article referenced Factiva from Dow Jones as one of the vendors who can help companies get more scientific about reputation management.

It said:
"That's why companies are trying to get more scientific about reputation management. Many big companies now shell out $2 million a year on image research. This will be a tiny slice of the $4.2 billion spent on PR this year, but such research is growing fast. To get a fix on how companies are seen publicly, they are hiring firms like Factiva and Delahaye that use powerful search engines to track databases of all print, broadcast, and Internet coverage and to search for trends."

The article debates amongst other things, whether a good reputation is linked to better stock prices. This echoes the findings of a white paper Factiva commissioned in 2005, entitled Strong Corporate Reputation Delivers Shareholder Value...But Who Controls It?. Worth a read, but if you want the short answer - yes. Good reputation was found to have impacted share price positively.

It was interesting to note that reputation management was not discussed too much at last week's PR Week Forum, as it had been in earlier years. As I mentioned earlier in the week, there was more focussed on online communities - which can certainly have an impact on a company's reputation.

Anyway, check out the BusinessWeek piece!

Contiki takes advantage of facebook


(image) I had my nose in facebook all weekend, which is proving to be way too addictive.

Interestingly, I found Contiki in a related group (though listed as sponsored) on the Explore the World group.

(image) Does advertising belong in social networking applications? I reckon yes, if it's relevant. Contiki as a tour company is clearly offering tours that are of relevance to this particular group. so it makes perfect sense for them to be there. From a marketing perspective, they also using the site to create conversations amongst their potential and existing customers, in the very place where those users are spending a lot of time.


There's also a group for Kumuka travellers, called Kumuka Overland, although this doesn't appear to have been set up by the company - it doesn't confirm this one way or the other. Great for Kumuka if their customers are starting such groups.The rules of marketing are definititely changing.

I reckon travel companies like Contiki, Kumuka and Explore are doing a good job of using new forms of media to get to their customers. Will be interesting to see how things evolve in this space.

Facebook..what's all the hype?


(image) I'd heard of this facebook thing, but with the proliferation of similar thingies like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Myspace, and all the others, I'm trying to limit what I sign up to, and how many places I have to maintain ALL THIS STUFF!

Anyway, over the weekend, I signed up to facebook. And I can see how people become addicted to this stuff. After adding a few friends and colleagues, suddenly I can see what they're up to, what they're interested in outside of what I may know about them, who their friends and colleagues are, and god knows whatever else they want to share about themselves.

It can be anything from the minutae of their lives (XX is chilling out, YY is going down to the pub to watch the rugby etc), to the big, important "Which is better: Gymea Pub or Northies?" That's an in joke for anyone who knows anything about THE SHIRE. But I found this scintilating question on the group Sutherland Shire: God's Country.

There are bwzillions of other groups - professional organisations, groups by activity, interest, region, age, languages etc; groups about beauty, beliefs and causes, dating and relationships, friends, gardening, health and wellness, pets and animals, travel and the list goes on.

Travel is a passion of mine, so I signed up to a couple of travel groups that cauhgt my eye. This is where I could begin to see the commercial potential of these sites...

What was hot at PRWeek's Summer Forum?


It was a fast and furious few days at PR Week's Summer Forum.Ed Vaizey MP opened the conference with a pleanry session about PR & politics. He gave some hints about how PRs should engage with politicians, stressing that the best approach was to ensure the issue was relevant to the MP's constituency. You could do this by engaging local businesses or individuals from the constituency to approach the MP on your behalf, he suggested.During his speech, Ed had to battle with extremely gusty winds that threatened to lift the marquee right off the green at the Forest of Arden golf course. The weather was truly disgraceful, but the wine and conversation flowed freely.After dinner, we took part in a trivia quiz. My table led the competition right till the last round, before we were pipped at the post by the table with all the Haymarket execs. Hmm. Me smells something fishy…Tuesday and Wednesday, and it was down to business, with a packed schedule of workshops and 1:1 vendor meetings.Nicole Lander, Communications Director at Dairy Crest led the first workshop, Payment by time vs payment by results. She discussed whether agencies should be paid on retainer or on a project/performance based approach. The room seemed fairly divided about the approaches. She cited an interesting dilemma about where an agency had planned a huge product launch on a particular day, only to be wiped out the next day by the breaking news of the 7/7 bombings. Should they have been paid for what they had achieved to that point, or not ben paid the full amount, because they had not achieved actual agreed outcomes. I think that was a particularly extreme example, and most people would reasonably expect payment for investing time in the project. We collectively liked the idea of a hybrid payment approach, consisting of a monthly retainer with a performance-based component to it.Julian Pike from legal firm Farrer & Co then discussed Legal battles and the role of PR. Sometimes good PR can involve keeping a company out of the media. He discussed the impact of social media like blogs and chatrooms on PR, how orgnisations had to be ever-vigilant about what was being written about them, and what some of the recourses were if their company was being slammed in those environments. ISPs are generally obliged to take down defamatory material, so he suggested going straight to an ISP and requesting that they remove offensive material about a company from the blog/chat room. In some case the ISP can be compelled to shut down a blog or website that it hosts.Antony Mayfield from Spannerworks discussed Engaging with online communities. He mentioned the latest social networking phenomenon – Myspace and facebook. Ok, ok, they’re not so new, but few people in the room had profiles on these sites (though I suspect most of will sign up in the next few days, just to see what all the hype is about). He used interesting case studies about online communities like Catster and Dogster to demonstrate the popularity of sites that allow people to share similar interests. Our CMO, Alan Scott uses the example of Nikonians to illustrate the same point. These communities are huge and have tremendous user loyalty!It seems that most people in the communications industry are still trying to get their heads around how to engage with online communities and how to incorporate them into their marketing and PR programs. Watch this space…Tom Whitwell, Communities Editor at the Times Online (and blogger at spoke about the changing newsroom and what he had learned in his 7 months in the role. He encourages Times reporters to try things with their blogs and stories. He said the internet affords us with instant measures as to whether something is working or not. He also pointed out that he [...]

Roll on PRWeek's Summer Forum


I'm heading up to Warwickshire next week for PRWeek's Summer Forum.

I went to the same event a couple of years ago, and it was a great conference - strong speakers and good networking opportunities. There was particularly heavy rain around Chepstow, where the event was being held, and the sewerage backed up and flooded into the hotel's foyer. You can imagine the musings of 50 PR-types in that scenario...eeeow.

Hopefully the only thing that'll be flowing this year, is great ideas and bubbles!

A new survey on influencing technology buyers


Hill and Knowlton released an interesting survey this week, entitled Influencing Technology Decision Makers.

Following a survey of 60 companies, the research found that PR can positively impact the purchasing decision.

The report highligts key trends including:
  • The dominance of analyst research - and how effective analyst relations really can help to drive sales enquiries
  • The power of the blog - and the growing importance of one-to-one dialogue
  • The importance of the right media coverage - and which publications ranked highly in terms of IT audience credibility

It's a brief but worthwhile read.

The 50 best business blogs...according to the Times


Interesting story a few days ago on the Times Online, about the 50 best business blogs. They've categorised it by sector. Definitely worth checking out if your company is one of the companies for which there is a dedicated anti-blog.

There were a couple of amusing quotes in the line up - this from Weber Shandwick's Colin Byrne on the Olympic logo: "Of course if your initiative attracts reams of bad headlines and coverage, and thousands of people take to the blogosphere as ‘badvocates, fuelling yet more media coverage, it could be described as a PR disaster I suppose."

An event for communications, marketing and sales professionals


We're hosting an Expert Series event next Thursday about how to Prove Your Strategic Value with Effective Media Measurement.

We'll have the agency perspective from Hotwire PR and the customer perspective from AEGON, as well as Alan Scott and Chris Shaw from Dow Jones.

The second stream focuses on Aligning Marketing with Sales:The Key to Customer Focus. Speakers from Dow Jones, and Jennifer Kirkby, Consulting Editor at will share their views on how to get closer to your customers to drive revenue growth and retention.

It's shaping up to a be a great event. You can register here to attend.

The new rules of PR and the new rules of book launches


Further to my last post about the Gobbledygook Manifesto, David has taken the somewhat progressive step of using his blog to do a virtual acknowledgement of everyone that provided input and commentary to the book.

It's already generating comments on the post, and I bet we're all thinking, "gawd, why didn't I think of that". What a fab way to launch a book and get the word out. We'll all no doubt eagerly read our free copy of the book and blog about it, and whooosh - there's a global viral marketing campaign in action.

Hats of to the true blog marketing guru!

Gong for the The Gobbledegook Manifesto


Congratulations to David Scott, whose Gobbledygook Manifesto project made it into MarketingSherpa's Viral Hall of Fame 2007. This is the second year running that David's campaigns have been awarded this auspicious gong.

We worked with David to provide the media analysis that measured the volume of over-used and jargon-laiden words in corporate press releases. It was a cool project - quirky, but full of warning for PR professionals who use these words in their releases.


Next month sees the launch of his new book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR. Be sure to check it out!

My thoughts are with Aussies plane-crash survivor, Cynthia Banham


About 5 years ago when I was mid-way through my MA in Journalism, an inspiring young woman - Cynthia Banham, who had done my course a few semesters before me came into our features writing class to give us an overview of what it was like to work as a real journalist.

She had transitioned from a fully practicing lawyer from freelance writer to a reporter on one of Australia's most respected newspapers - the Sydney Morning Herald. I followed Cynthia's work ever since, because I completely admired how she decided she wanted to be a journalist, and then worked her butt off to become one - on a top paper no less.

I happened to catch details of this week's horrific plane crash in Indonesia, and was absolutely shocked to read just now that Cynthia was not only on the plane, but one of the survivors. The news story reports how she managed to pull herself from her burning seat - despite having spinal injuries - and somehow roll herself to a nearby rice paddy into the water. She is in a serious but stable condition.

The article also talks about Cynthia's sheer determination to survive, and having seen just a smidgen of that determination when I met her after that lecture some 5 years ago, it's not surprising that if anyone could do it, Cynthia could.

My thoughts for a speedy recovery go out to Cynthia.

Let the award season begin!


The new year has well and truly dawned, and this naughty little blogger is only just peeping out into the blogosphere for the first time in 2007. Note to more. Awards programs are in full swing, with the PR Week Awards celebrating its 21st birthday this year. Entry submissions are due by 24 May. The CIPR Excellence Awards 2007 are also open for submission until 28 February.

Is evaluation on the increase?


Metrica released an interesting survey this week about media evaluation in the UK.

These stats showed promise:
"Almost one in four organisations (23%) now believe that between 11% and 20% of annual PR budget should be spent on measurement, representing an increase of 9% over the past two years. The number who believe that between 5% and 10% should be spent remains about the same at 61%."
It would be interesting to know if the percentage range of 11%-20% is actually being spent, rather than the amount that companies feel should be spent.

Interesting also, the growing incidence of using advertising value equivalents, which indicates to me that perhaps some of the companies who have recently started to do media evaluation are relying on AVEs as their primary measure. It’s still a very basic form of measurement, but I think it’s also indicative of the general challenge of the PR industry - which is to come up with a universally acceptable methodology on which to base media evaluation.

The Gobbledygook Manifesto lays down the gauntlet!


David Scott, an online content marketing expert, has just released the Gobbledygook Manifesto, which looks at some of the most overused words in press releases. PR professionals pay attention!

While our earlier cliche media analysis sort to look at some of the most over-used cliches in the global business media, we worked with David to provide Factiva media analysis based on over 388,000 press releases issued in the first 9 months of this year, with a view to seeing how frequently a pool of about 20 over-abused terms appeared.

As David's post points out, about 1 in 5 press releases contains adjectives that David considers to be Gobbledygook, that is, meaningless phrases that clutter corporate writing.

The winner (or most abused term), was "next generation", with over 9,800 references in US-issued press releases this year. Here are more results from David's post.

"There were over 5,000 uses of each of the following words and phrases: "flexible," "robust," "world class," "scalable," and "easy to use." Other notably overused phrases with between 2,000 and 5,000 uses included "cutting edge," "mission critical," "market leading," "industry standard," "turnkey," and "groundbreaking." Oh and don't forget "interoperable," "best of breed," and "user friendly," each with over 1,000 uses in news releases."

UK-issued releases fared somewhat better, with only about 11% (29,300+) of the 264,000 press releases issued across UK wires in the last 9 months, containing Gobbledygook phrases. Interestingly, "next generation" is up there, but "cutting edge" appears more frequently in UK releases than in the US.


I would love to have a Plain English day, where all corporates eliminated superfluous adjectives and actually communicated clearly. We have the luxury of choosing from thousands of words to describe what our organisations do...are we really cutting edge if every man and his dog (bang goes another cliche!) is as well?

Stay tuned on the Gobbledygook Manifesto, and use it as a checklist to see if your corporate communications are degenerating into repetitive blah. I shall certainly be doing so.

An interesting crisis management case study - EDF


Steve Hemsley's recent PR Week feature entitled Monitor your way out of a crisis provided a useful case study that outlined how energy giant EDF monitored and responded to the crisis that was the ongoing slew of negative press they copped over summer due to their ongoing price increases.

All of the major energy companies in the UK were punished in the media, as "fuel poverty" became a frequently used term.

The case study discussed what tools EDF used to monitor the media throughout the crisis, what the results were, and what their response to the situation was. The article mentioned that "an unexpected twist was the discovery that the power blackout in London was bigger news in the regionals than EDF Energy's price hikes. As a result, Wynn (EDF's director of comms, Gareth Wynn) says he is now considering investing in an online measuring tool to provide real-time monitoring information so his team can respond more quickly."

Indeed, traditional media monitoring and evaluation tools such as hard copy clippings or manual evaluations, are increasingly too slow to provide true value in a crisis. They may provide a useful retrospective view of what happened, but that's too late to actually help you navigate out of the crisis - and as EDF discovered, online monitoring tools may even highlight opportunities in a crisis that would otherwise remain undetected through traditional means.

More talk about measurement & reputation


Seems like everyone's talking about measurement - how to measure the value of PR, how to measure the value of reputational and relationship capital etc.

My colleague Glenn, has an interesting post about a case study at a recent conference that discussed how United Technologies measures intangibles like like leadership, human capital, technology, reputation, familiarity and favorability.

This was very much the theme of a a Reputation Management workshop I attended yesterday at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Jon White, the lecturer was talking about how accountants have always been able to determine the value of "goodwill" of a company (which, crudely, is the market capitalisation minus the value of the physical assets), but that we somehow need to be able to break down the remaining chunk into elements like human capital, intellectual capital, reputational capital and relationship capital.

Relationship capital, he said, was the value of the relationships the organisation formed with its various sets of stakeholders. And that's where he felt PR people could most definitely add to the value of their organisation.

The challenge to me still seems to be around how you actually put a value to a relationship with an individual, group or entire set of stakeholders - I believe the concept is spot on, but I think many companies and PR professionals are still struggling to do this on a practical level.

It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

Course recommendation: Creating a PR Strategy @ The CIPR


(image) This week, I attended the CIPR's 1-day Creating a PR Strategy Workshop. As well as being a great chance to get out of the office for the day and network with other communications professionals, it was a thoroughly valuable course.

Dennis Kelly, Director of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Business School, facilitated the workshop and reminded us of the importance of planning in strategy creation. We had rather a long discussion about definitions, with the key takeaway being that the terms aims, objectives, strategy and tactics all being using fairly interchangeablely (and inaccurately) in practice.

He outlined why strategic PR (or communications) was important, and what we stood to gain personally and professionally if we throught and operated more strategically. He walked through 4 simple steps for strategic planning - the audit, creating the strategy, implementation and evaluation. We worked on a case study throughout the day that illustrated the key points, and were quite surprised at what we could collectively come up with for an area that for pretty much all of the participants, was out of our area of expertise.

It was also interesting to hear the participants talk about what continues to be a common theme amongst PR and comms types - how to measure what we do effectively. Dennis outlined the different levels of measurement; inputs, outputs, out-takes, outcomes and outflows, and we all estimated we were measuring our efforts around Level 2 (output). We did however, have a good brainstorming session about how we could get more creative in measuring results - using hard metrics, rather than the "fluffy stuff", as Dennis was adamant we avoid.

The workshop was a timely reminder that every now and then it's worth looking up from the mountain of media queries, internal requests and day-to-day stuff, and take a big picture look at your entire communications program and it's objectives. Much food for thought!

I'm doing the CIPR's Reputation Management workshop in a couple of weeks, which I'm also looking forward to.

I want to deal with more organisations that listen!


I had an experience this week that personally proved to me that companies who take the time to engage with bloggers can start to truly get to know their customers in a way that database segmentation or direct marketing campaigns could never achieve.

In my spare time, I maintain a travel blog, and I have written about some of the tours I’ve done lately with Explore. My experiences with the company have been entirely positive – the tours I did around Iceland and Croatia with Explore this year were excellent, and I would not hesitate to recommend them to family and friends. Explore tours are well organized, great value for money, FUN, and have a great combination of structured and free time. What really appeals to me is that they get to some really obscure places. I plan to do more Explore tours as time and money allow – and no, they are not paying me to say this!

What impressed me about Paul, the “ECommerce Bod” from Explore who emailed me, was that he offered help in getting me more information if I needed it, offered some information about their affiliate program (which I may or may not pursue, but it wasn’t a hard sell), and shared some personal observations about Lake Bled, Slovenia, where we’d both visited recently. It was clear he knew his stuff. He was authentic – and that’s important.

When I replied, he continued our conversation about the rather scary cable car that scales the cliffs surrounding Lake Bohinj en route to the ski resort that overlooks the entire valley. Talk about great views! He mentioned that the next Explore brochure was coming out soon, and to keep an eye out for more tours. As if I need any encouragement!

I thought it was cool. And relevant and appropriate. It makes me feel like the people at Explore are actually interested in what their customers are saying about their company – good or bad. They talk to me about stuff that interests me, and not in polished corporate speak but with a friendly, conversational tone. The tours themselves are great, but this personal touch, way after the fact, is really refreshing.

He also said he’d keep reading my blog. So, Paul, if you are reading this, thanks for your emails, and I hope you get to do one of the Explore train tours soon.