The Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles – how can PR demonstrate its value?

Two capital cities played host to two major PR and communications events in June – both of which have far reaching implications for the industry.

Sweden was the venue for The World Public Relations Forum where the Stockholm Accords were unveiled. Their stated aim is “to articulate and establish the role of public relations within a fast-evolving digital and value-network society.”

In Barcelona, the world’s experts in research came together under the umbrella of AMEC to agree a set of measurement and evaluation fundamentals called the Barcelona Principles.

The unspoken premise behind both of these two initiatives is that the PR and communications sector has to make a bigger effort in demonstrating its value to business and society at large and to lay claim to a greater involvement in organisational success.

At the heart of the Accords is the notion of a “communicative organisation”.  It suggests that organisations that put more effort into communicating with stakeholders and acting rapidly to feedback are those most likely to succeed. More ambitiously, the Accords suggest that PR should be involved not only in its traditional communication role – to both internal and external audiences – but should play a part in other issues such as sustainability, management and governance.

The role of technology

Perhaps understandably, the Stockholm Accords make little reference to how the industry is to achieve this specifically.  But there can be no doubt that technology must have a role to play in surmounting some of the big challenges ahead.

For example, in terms of communicating with a key external stakeholder group – the media – online media centres have come a long way since they first made their appearance over 15 years ago. Whereas early forms of online media centre acted as little more than glorified press release archives, the modern day media centre allows communications departments  to rapidly provide highly targeted content to relevant media contacts while at the same reducing the overhead traditionally required to maintain brand and message consistency.

Another  key component of the Accords is the desire to support a “listening culture”.  The biggest challenge to adopting this approach in recent years has been the rise of social media in the shape of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (that said, not every senior corporate communications director is convinced about this – Rolls-Royce’s Peter Morgan being the most recent high profile dissenter).

However, there are areas where technology has not yet delivered in terms of aiding the PR industry’s mission to demonstrate more value. Automated sentiment analysis perhaps  being the most obvious example of where the promise and the reality have failed to match.

Measuring outcomes, not outputs

Ultimately, what links online media centres, automated sentiment analysis, social media and research is the overriding need to measure and evaluate PR investment. And to do so far more rigorously than in the past. The Stockholm Accords and the Barcelona Principles are both in agreement on this point. The Barcelona Principles are all about abandoning the use of AVE’s as a way of measuring the value of PR and instead, focussing on outcomes rather than outputs.  As the Accords state: “Evaluation implies the prevalent use of qualitative tools while measurement implies a prevalent use of quantitative tools. The new frontier, as is happening for other management functions, relies in “quantilitative” tools which integrate both evaluation and measurement.”

Aside from the rather ugly coinage of “quantilitative”, this raises the biggest question. How is the PR profession to demonstrate its value to the organisation’s multiple stakeholders now and in the future?  There is no shortage of technology and tools available to address specific parts of the problem. However, those that focus on integrating technology to address all aspects of internal and external communication must surely have a head start in creating the organisational success the industry so craves.


The Challenges of Measuring the Engaged Web: The Engaged Web Part III

This is the third and final part in my Engaged Web series of blog posts.  If you missed the previous posts, you can access them using the links below;

Part I: The Engaged Web, Part II: Speed is the New Currency

3 key challenges

There are 3 key challenges which organizations face when measuring engaged two-way media:

  1. Sentiment is fluid and can change rapidly online. What begins as positive can change to negative and even back to positive. In other words, it evolves. It’s crucial, therefore, to look at trends and movement rather than just volume.
  2. Defining what is positive or negative is based upon your point of view. What good for one organisation is not necessarily good for another. Perspective is paramount.
  3. The engaged web has its own language. The syntax used on Facebook and Twitter is very different to that of conventional prose. Think hash tags, emoticons etc.

In my view, the measurement industry needs to move from looking at ‘what has happened’ to ‘why it has happened’. But, as we see above, there remain some real challenges.  Effectively measuring reputation requires measuring all reputational influence.  We must measure traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc) alongside the Facebooks and Twitters of the world. If we don’t, we will fail to understand trends and patterns and establish the true connections.

The Case for Automated Sentiment Analysis

So how does an organisation know at the right time what is being said about it across tens or hundreds of thousands of media channels? It simply cannot be achieved quickly enough (let alone cost-effectively) with human evaluation methodologies. This is why more and more companies are turning to automated sentiment analysis.

Sentiment analysis engines have traditionally used a dictionary-based approach to measuring and identifying sentiment.  This method needs a dictionary of at least 250,000 words to be anywhere near effective.  It also means that it must be constantly updated with new words if it is to stay on top of the latest linguistic nuances.

However, superior tools are now being developed which operate around rule-based methodologies that do not use dictionaries, but instead analyze grammar and context.  This allows them to have a far greater level of language independence plus the ability to cope with slang and the other syntax challenges previously mentioned.  Tools which use this approach also have the ability to self learn and automatically adapt to language change as it happens which is critical when measuring the constantly-evolving engaged web.

Over the years, automated sentiment analysis has had a few false horizons and there is, quite justifiably, cynicism from some as to its efficacy. But this is now being cracked. Huge gains are being made in accuracy, speed and usability.  As this develops, the world will become divided into those who great reputation management software and those who don’t.  There will be clear winners and losers. The winners will be using sentiment analysis platforms to elevate the human role to high level analysis and decision making, while those who don’t will be left drowning in thousands of pages of posts and tweets, wondering where it all went wrong.


‘The Engaged Web’

I delivered a presentation entitled ‘How to measure the “Engaged Web” to gain competitive business advantage,’ at last week’s Marketing Week Live event.  For those of you who were unable to attend, I thought I’d share this presentation with you via a series of posts on our blog. This is the first installment.

The Engaged Web is a term I coined back in April during a talk at Internet World.  I prefer to use it to describe today’s media landscape.  Why? Because I don’t like the term social media which I consider to already be a bit of an anachronism. I believe that organisations have to stop thinking about social media as something new and separate from their current web activities because everything is now social. It’s just what the web is.

So, what does the engaged web look like?

The engaged web looks much like the microscopic view of cells in the diagram below. Unlike the old world which was structured and block like with clearly defined media channels, the engaged web is organic and fluid.

The organisation sits at the centre of the engaged web, surrounded by a landscape of influencers which is constantly changing and interconnecting.  This fluid world consists of traditional old media (newspapers, magazines, tv etc) and the new giants Facebook, YouTube, Twitter et al.

Each of these channels has the ability to interconnect with each other i.e. a story can break on a blog, hit the news stands and then find itself on the evening TV news.

So what does this mean for businesses?

It means that our world has become both larger and smaller.  Larger, because the sheer volume of people able to influence our brand has increased exponentially. Smaller, because the speed and the reach of the internet removes geographical boundaries and constraints.

The engaged web also has the ability to touch all functions of a business; PR marketing, customer service and sales are the obvious choices but product development and HR can also be influenced.  Development teams have rapid exposure and market insight into the minds and expectations of their audiences.

Similarly, a company’s ability to recruit may be hampered by candidate’s exposure to negative postings about their working environment or practices.

Still think that the engaged web is something you don’t have to worry about?

Consider these three recent facts

  1. A recent report from Morgan Stanley says that the time people spend on social media has now surpassed that spent on email
  2. Facebook has over 400m users, each spending an average 55mins per day on the network
  3. Recent research from Gigur has found that social media sites are driving more traffic to sites like ESPN and CNN than Google

People are empowered by online communities which give them a share of voice.  No business can afford not to know what’s being said about their brand.  It’s no coincidence that in 2009, the number of companies looking for “buzz monitoring” tools rose from 21% to 40%.

The engaged web demands complete transparency and visibility by removing barriers which some companies may have used previously to silence critics or hide mistakes.

HTML5 ‘v’ Flash or Apple ‘v’ Adobe?

The first battle of the technologies I remember was Betamax ‘v’ VHS (only just I might add, actually, it was more the old top loader I remember) and having witnessed Blu-Ray win the battle over HD DVD format, are we about to witness another head to head with HTML 5 and Flash.

This time, in the HTML5 corner we have technology behemoths Apple and Microsoft and in the Flash corner, we have software provider and owner of Flash technology, Adobe.

Now, those of you who own an iPhone, iTouch or iPad (jealous) will know that Flash is not supported by any Apple device.  To add to Adobe’s woes, Microsoft’s latest edition of Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) has been built to support HTML5 video playback in H.264 (or MEG-4), rather than flash.  Take a look at this to see IE9 HTML5 video playback in action – jump to around the 26 minute mark.

In a letter addressing the Flash issue, Apple’s Steve Jobs discusses the history between the two companies and the main reasons why Apple has chosen the HTML5 route as opposed to Flash.

Firstly, he takes a pop at the “openness”, reliability, security and performance of Flash, stating that it’s the number one reason Mac’s crash (ouch).  He also mentions the fact that Flash has not performed well on “any” mobile devices and that they’ve been waiting on Adobe to deliver a Smartphone ready version since the beginning of 2009 (double ouch).

So that’s Apple’s stance.  What about the rest of the web?

Now, as with all new standards, questions arise around adoption.  Jobs touches on this too, taking a pop at Adobe’s claim that 75% of video on the web is in Flash.  Jobs’ retort? Almost all of that 75% is available in another format (H.264) which is also HD ready.

So if so much Flash content is available in another format, how much of that 75% Jobs mentioned has adopted the new format?  According to, a massive 66%.  Based on that stat, I think Adobe might be fighting a loosing battle as it would seem the choice has already been taken out of their hands.

That stat coupled with the fact that Microsoft’s IE9 will only support H.264 video surely has to be the final nail in the coffin of a format which was produced for yesteryear and continually fails to impress on the Smartphone’s of the future.

Jobs makes an interesting concluding point – “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice… But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.”


Don’t shoot the messenger…

The decision by the Italian courts to convict Google employees (both past and present) of privacy violation is truly baffling and somewhat concerning.

The case in question concerns a video made by a group of Italian students, which shows them being physically and verbally abusive to a fellow classmate who suffers from Downs’ Syndrome.

In the eyes of the Italian courts “Google broke Italian privacy law by not seeking the consent of all the parties involved before allowing it to go online.”

By pressing ahead with this conviction, is the Italian justice system suggesting that each piece of video content published to the internet, by both individuals and service providers, be pre-screened before publication?  This is surely an impossible task which would seriously alter the web as we know it.

What’s more, to suggest that the publisher, rather than the producers (the true criminals) can hardly be viewed as justice.  The old adage “don’t shoot the messenger” springs to mind.

Lest we not forget that the actual perpetrators of the crime were suspended from their school and sentenced to community service based on the information Google was able to supply the Italian authorities.

Richard Thomas, the UK’s former information commissioner hit it on the head when he said “It is like prosecuting the post office for hate mail that is sent in the post.”

The concerning issue is the wider ramifications which this ruling brings.  The suggestion being made by the Italian authorities is that service providers (such as us) can be held accountable for content published by their users.

So, are the Italian authorities (not renowned for their own credibility some might say) trying to send a message out to the online world?  Should Google have reacted more quickly (it was apparently the most watch clip at one point and resided on the site for two months). What will be the wider ramifications for video/content sharing on the World Wide Web.  Answers to this post below please*.


*by submitting a comment to this blog, you hereby absolve us of any legal responsibly for your content!

Using Twitter as part of your PR mix

2009 was, as they say, the year in which Twitter exploded.  Celebrities such as Stephen Fry and Ashton Kutcher became fervent Twitter users –  the former of which was accused of having a twitter wobble when he threatened to quit the micro-blogging site after some declared his tweets ‘boring’.

Searches for the site peaked in December 09 after “The Iranian Cyber Army” hacked the site, briefly taking control and redirecting users to their site.

My Twitter revolution began on 11th February 2009.  I had absolutely no idea what it was or why I needed to use it (and to some extent I still don’t). So why did I join? Because if you want to be an early adopter, you’ve got to keep with the times (even if you don’t quite know what the times are).

For the first few months I barely visited the site, with my early ‘tweets’ consisting of updates from my feed. Then July rolled around, I graduated and reality dawned “how am I going to find a job?”

What if I made use of all those targeting skills I learned at University and used Twitter to help me find a job? Although that didn’t actually lead me here to Glide, it did give me a valuable insight into how to ‘tweet’ effectively.

What tweet category are you?

A US based marketing research firm called Pear Analytics analysed 2,000 tweets and identified six categories:

1.    News
2.    Spam
3.    Self-Promotion
4.    Pointless babble
5.    Conversational
6.    Pass-along value

The study found that pointless babble (or social grooming as social networking researcher Danah Boyd referred to it) was by far the most popular type of tweet accounting for 40% of all tweets.  But as the category name suggests, it’s not ideal if you’re trying to engage with your audience.

What should you tweet about then?

People like sites like Twitter for real-time news updates.  Take the story of six year old Falcon Heene (the boy from the US who was alleged to have floated away in a homemade weather balloon) who was dubbed ‘balloon boy’ by the social media world.

They also like to promote issues they believe in and protest against those they don’t. For example, every Saturday night for the duration of the X Factor live shows the contestants and the show title were trending topics on Twitter as was the successful Rage Against the Machine campaign for Christmas number one.

People also love the spontaneity of Twitter – think impromptu gatherings like moon walking at Liverpool St station after MJ’s death.

People also like tweets that include interesting content such as music, websites, pictures and videos.

Engage with your audience in the right way and Twitter can be a great promotional tool.  Do it wrong and you risk being classed as a ‘spammer’.

So how can you use Twitter for PR (if you’re not already)?

Think carefully about your strategy.  Take time to understand what (if anything) is being said about you.  Listen to conversations and decide on the best strategy for engagement.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Post interesting stories with “retweet value” to spread the word and get you noticed
  • Tweet snippets of your releases that contain a link to the full release
  • Interact with your customers and clients on a more personal level, listen to what they say and engage in a      meaningful way
  • Target journalists, experts in your field and even consumers using the @username function
  • Use the search and follow tools to monitor how consumers feel about your brand, your area and your competitors
  • Use this great application by Edelman to measure how “important” you are on Twitter


Search engines to receive copyright immunity?

So,   the ‘to index or not to index’ battle has made its way to the desk of Lord Lucas.  Rupert Murdoch’s portrayal of search engines as dark horses of the apocalypse may have been dealt a blow when the Tory peer tabled an amendment to the Digital Economy Bill outlining “Protection of search engines from liability for copyright infringement(292)”.

In layman terms; the amendment gives search engines immunity from copyright infringement to index and copy some of the content of publicly available websites, as long as the copy is used to link back to said website and only if the website carries no form of explicit request not to be indexed i.e. a robots.txt file.

Should the bill be passed next Tuesday, it might just settle once and for all Murdoch’s grumble with the search engines, in his case with Google in particular.

With around 90% of people beginning their online journey via a search engine (and around 80% of the UK choosing Google), you have to wonder how people would find content on news sites in the first place.

In my opinion, using a robots.txt file and banning Google from indexing content is not the way forward for Murdoch.  He has to realise that Google has the search market cornered and that there are better, more viable options for guarding your content whist maintaining FREE traffic to your site.

Option 1
Create an iPhone app, the Guardian did and it’s making them money already.  Sky News has one but it’s free (miss a trick there Rupert?)

Option 2
Only make the first part of your article publicly available – that way, you can still optimise a large part of your content, build links etc to gain listing in the search engines but have the full article behind a private, subcription log-in.  This option would also allow you to sell highly targeted premium ad space.

I could think of a few more but I think you get the point.  What irks me about Rupert Murdoch’s argument is that he seems so ill prepared on the subject.  Maybe if he took some advice or listened to a digital specialist he never would have started the whole debate in the first place.

All eyes on next Tuesday.


Who’s the real culprit here?

Following on from my last post on how journalists are becoming increasingly frustrated at the levels of PR Spam they receive, we now dig a little deeper to find out who the real culprits of this mega spam are.

Whilst it’s true that if you are in the media it comes with the territory but what we’re talking about is a level and frequency of PR spam that is doing nobody any favours.  And whilst it’s also true that ultimate responsibility for sending spam is down to the person who hits the ‘send’ button, we must also not overlook the role that the PR software industry has to play in the whole process.  (Yes, that’s us)

Unlike most of our competitors, we don’t create media lists ourselves.  Instead, we prefer to partner with providers of lists so clients have more control over their contacts (we partner with PR Newswire and Gorkana, two of the more responsible and accurate list providers). However, barely a day goes by without us getting an enquiry from someone asking us if they can get media lists from us and how much they cost.

This is because many PRs see lists as a quick and easy (and lazy!) way to get a release out and get at least some coverage to show their boss (or client).  Maintaining a proper CRM, analysing click-through rates and providing a proper opt-in/opt-out process or (heaven forbid!) actually creating a journalist-friendly media centre all seems too much like hard work.

When we explain we don’t offer a media database only solution, it tends to be a case of ‘oh never mind, I just want a database [so I can send out my email to 1000 people]’.

What’s happened recently is that media lists are becoming cheaper due to two main factors

1)    the outsourcing of the management of these lists to places with cheaper labour costs
2)    (far more worrying) the use of bots to scrape profile information from the web (badly) to create automated ‘profiles’ of journalists and bloggers based on the content they write for their online publications and blogs.  This can also include LinkedIn and other online personal profiles.

This means that more junior and part-time PR people can get their hands on them without having the rest of the PR skillset that’s needed to make the right use of what can be a very powerful tool.  And as a result, the level of PR spam has increased.

Many of our clients are large companies with large PR teams so we’ve seen how, in the hands of an experienced PR practitioner, lists can be a really useful instrument in a PR’s toolbox.

In the case of some list providers it’s also very difficult for journalist/bloggers to remove themselves from the central list, having instead to go to each sender individually.

Sadly it’s also often the case of quantity not quality when it comes to shopping for media databases (from the perspective of someone who speaks to people wanting to buy such lists).  “How many contacts do you have for topic X in country Y?”  “oh, never mind then, that other provider said they had 2,000.”  Oh dear.

What can be done?

Seeing the frustration that still exists is quite disheartening.  Where technology should be used to ease communications between PRs and the media (and this is certainly our philosophy) in many cases, it’s only serving to exacerbate the problem by making it even easier for PRs to continue their bad habits.

A lot of what needs to be done rests with the PRs themselves. What I want to do here is list a few suggestions from the perspective of a web technology provider:

Integrate your email distribution strategy with your website/media centre!

This makes it much easier to:

1)    Let journalists/bloggers opt-in themselves. If you get coverage for something you’ve done quite often other journalists and/or bloggers will read it and may want to know more about what you are doing in the future.  Providing RSS, the ability to subscribe via email, or receiving updates via twitter, means the journalist is in control of how and what information they receive from you.

2)   Let journalists/bloggers opt out. Every email sent should have an automated process for the journalist to modify what kind of information they want to receive or remove themselves entirely.  Having a manual unsubscribe process also makes more work the PR, so automate if you can.

3)    Allow the journalist to see what profile you have for them. If you integrate parts of your CRM with your website when you distribute an email, the journalist can see for themselves what you think they are interested in.  If the journalist is able to easily clarify what information they want this will make both your lives easier.

4)   Track what journalists are doing with the information you send them. Technology exists now that let’s you see whether journalists are opening your emails and even what they are clicking on.  If you’re repeatedly sending out emails that have very low open rates or you’re sending releases to journalists that never open what you’re sending them you’re probably doing something wrong!

Fran Molley says “I applaud PR companies that keep good databases and target their releases more effectively. CRM technology is so easy & cheap these days, I don’t understand why it isn’t a fundamental part of every PR’s toolkit.”  Well, Fran, neither do we!  Point people our way and we’ll sort them out 

If any journalists or PRs reading this have ideas for how a PR software provider like us can help in this we’d love to hear your thoughts.


Press Releases – can’t live with them, can’t live without them

From the comfort of a warm café in Barcelona I’ve been reading with interest the coverage of two storms that are passing through the UK at the moment.  One was about too much snow and the other about too much spam!

Waaay back in December last decade, Kevin Braddock posted (and then deleted) a full list, including full names and emails, of every PR person who had sent him an irrelevant or ‘spam’ press release in 2009.

Sure enough, this post eventually got picked up on twitter by people returning from holiday in January and a full on backlash from the industry began until the list was eventually deleted on 5th Jan.  People like Will Sturgeon, Guy Clapperton and Edelman UK have all made interesting contributions to the debate that are worth a read as are many of the comments in reply to their posts.

PR Week UK have also covered the debate with their own mini-poll showing a small majority of their readers support the actions of Braddock.

And this morning Josh Halliday, another frustrated journalist, has chimed in on the PR fail with his own threat to start spamming PRs back so they get a taste of their own medicine!

The story has even been picked up in The Times.

A view from the middle

A lot has already been said about the whole episode but I thought it would be good to offer a view from somewhere in the middle of the two sides.

Obviously here at Glide it’s predominantly in-house PR teams that pay for our service, but the whole concept for what we do came out of listening to the needs of the media.  Each year, we continue to make an effort to survey them to try and understand how they work and what they like or dislike about the way the PR industry communicates with them.

What have we learnt from our own research?  One participant, Chris Lee says:  “At the end of the day, despite hundreds of thousands of pounds being spent on PR training, journo complaints are still the same as they were when I came into the industry in 1998.  It’s mostly execs that ’spam’ journalists – why? Because they’re often young, inexperienced and heavily under pressure to get results, so of COURSE they’re going to do the scattergun thing.”

What we also found is that journalists perceive the level of spam they get to be on the increase!  You might think that improvements in web and communications technology would mean that it’s easier to manage contact profiles, but it seems to be that the opposite is happening.

Two questions asked in our research are particularly relevant to this discussion:

1. What is your preferred method of receiving press release?  Please rated their usefulness.

2. How do you treat news information submitted by email

85% of journalists surveyed complain that they are getting too many irrelevant emails with 40% reaching a stage where they will only read an email if it’s from someone they already know.

You can read more about our latest research here: Glide Technologies publishes a preview of its 2010 Annual Media Research

This can make sending our mass, untargeted emails quite a risky strategy, especially if you are an agency.  An untargeted release sent to a journalist for one client may get you blacklisted, so when you want to send a more relevant release another day on behalf of another client, your email may go directly to their spam box!

Sender beware, spam at your own risk!

Stay tuned for more thoughts on who is really to blame for the deluge.


Social Media versus Simon Cowell

After a Facebook and Twitter campaign that spread faster than swine flu, Rage Against The Machine (RATM) were victorious in the race to the Christmas number 1 slot on downloads alone, beating sweet, dimpled X-Factor winner Joe McElderry by 50,000 sales.

At our Social Media event back in July, Martin Thomas, talked about the ‘crowd’ – newly-empowered consumers who are directly telling brands what they think of them via social media.  He argued that companies need to embrace this direct feedback and harness the power of the crowd, changing their mind set and the way they do business to become ‘crowd surfers’.

This campaign is a fantastic example of just how powerful that ‘crowd’ can be.  Joe is part of the great X-Factor marketing machine – paraded on prime time TV in front of millions of viewers every week, promoted on radio, the internet, spin-off TV shows, posters – just about every way imaginable.  The rage against this marketing machine was conducted primarily on Facebook and Twitter – but with the backing of the band and a few other high profile influencers, gathered enough momentum to stop the X-Factor bandwagon reaching the number one spot again.

Perhaps the crowd are getting fed up with X-Factor; they are telling Simon Cowell that new life needs injecting into the brand if it is to continue to dominate pre-Christmas TV.  Perhaps they are bored of the predictability of the Christmas number one going to the winner – that race used to be much more exciting.  Or perhaps it was more about the race itself – the eXcitement Factor (groan) – the thrill of finding out whether it could really work, whether the power of social media was a match for the X-Factor’s tried and tested formula.

Whatever the reason, this has to go down as one-nil to the crowd.  But Mr Cowell, to give him his due, is a pretty good ‘crowd surfer’ himself.  He has participated fully in the debate, even phoning the organiser of the Facebook campaign to congratulate him on his success.  And it’s definitely true that X-Factor, Simon and Joe have enjoyed even more publicity than they would have had because of this campaign.  And of course, Simon has interests in RATM’s record label!  So, was Simon secretly behind it after all?  Calling all conspiracy theorists….