Who knew my weekly column was such a mouthful?

Shavers Weekly penis jibe

Shavers Weekly penis jibe

Just as well I’m thick-skinned, eh?

Those over-exuberant young scallywags at Shavers Weekly have speared me with satire in their latest, laugh-a-minute edition.

It would seem they find the weekly column I write for the Daily Record’s Edinburgh Now supplement as something of an unwelcome mouthful.

Everyone likes to be recognised for their work, so clearly this mud slinging comes as a bit of a job blow.

Despite the naughty allegations, I suppose it could have been worse.

After all, the schoolboy humour fuelled magazine labelled my fellow Edinburgh Now columnists as “boring” or “drunk”.

However, it does leave me wondering: just how could they have known about my, ah, special skill?

And with that spoiler out there, how am I possibly going to find an alternative party trick in time for the Christmas season?

Tchoh.

Teen Boys Burst Rockstar’s Cheeky BAWSAQ with $1 Billion Gaming Frenzy

BAWSAQ in Grand Theft Auto 5Apart from a short flirtation with a Nintendo handset in the early 1990s, I can’t claim to be a gamer.

Probably just as well. With my anorak tendencies and borderline OCD (I like to call it determination and bloody mindedness) there’s every chance I’d become obsessed.

From there it would be a rapid descent and before long I’d be a chubby, straggly-haired, pop-eyed, socially inept and basement-dwelling cliche (the kind that all gamers were tainted with, before geekery somehow became trendy). Not a good look.

All in all I’ve always been a bit sniffy about ‘video games’. At times I’ve thought the notion of ‘professional gamers’ is an insult to the evolutionary splendour of the opposable thumb. To think, millions of years of in the making and  the pinnacle of natural selection has been achieved to let mumbling teens make a screen flash faster and call it Halo 4. Tchoh.

Still, while I might not know a Skyrim from a Call of Duty, every now and then indifference has to be set aside when something from a specific niche transcends its sphere and becomes truly mainstream. When everybody on the planet, it seems, suddenly becomes familiar with a concept they’d normally have no business bumping up against.

A couple of weeks ago it was Twerking. Right now it’s Grand Theft Auto Five.

What  I know about  the GTA franchise is negligible, beyond the fact that it was a hugely profitable, unbelievably well-marketed success story, made by Rockstar games – right here in Scotland.

Also that it is vaguely controversial among the Daily Mail classes.  For instance, I heard one wag proclaim: “It’s not exactly family friendly is it? How do I lock my kids out of the living room and explain to them that daddy doesn’t want bothered while he’s busy running down prostitutes?’. Charming.

So, my assumptions were these: Super successful game; popular with spotty boys; involves stealing cars and driving over other people in them.

Today I still don’t really know a great deal more about GTA 5 than that. However, I had a right good chuckle at a news story explaining how the developers transplanted Scottish Borders town Hawick to the fictional California setting of the game.

Even funnier was the revelation that they’d even managed to squeeze in a reference to the hugely delayed and horribly bloated Edinburgh trams debacle. There’s something wryly amusing about fans the world over immersing themselves completely in this expansive and sprawling gaming experience – only to be covertly bombarded with messages about the stuff that gets Angry of Morningside writing letters to The Scotsman.

So, in an effort to learn more I ventured onto YouTube to watch the ‘Official Gameplay Video’. To give you a clue to the popularity of this thing it’s had more than 27 million views. What can I say? It’s breathtaking. Astonishing. It actually makes me think about going out, buying a console and finally finding out what this gaming thing is all about.

Ultimately the whole GTA franchise has to be respected for the simple fact that it earned more than $1 billion dollars within three days. Ye whit? When was the last time any Scottish-based business produced those sorts of numbers?

Those are the kind of figures to really get the attention of Wall Street  – which brings me to the point which gets the biggest respect for the team at Rockstar games. Their fictional gaming world includes a stock market which the characters play and invest in, which owes more than a passing nod to the American stock market, the NASDAQ.

Except, with typical Scottish humour the Rockstar team have given it a much cheekier name – meaning that panting, hormonal, teenage boys the world over are currently going mad for the chance to play the BAWSAQ.

Genius.

 

 

Connecting on LinkedIn – Personalise or standard message?

People You May Know

People You May Know

LinkedIn is the rather unfashionable social media platform among the connected classes and the always-on aficionados.

For one thing it’s all about business, which means LinkedIn wears a virtual suit and tie. That tightly buttoned image makes it  difficult for the platform to cultivate the rebellious swagger of Twitter or the recreational feel of Facebook.

I’ve also heard it dismissed as a site only of interest to recruiters or as a online CV posting point, which lets the opposition eye up a business’s talent. Worse, I’ve also listened to people dismiss it as a place where nothing interesting is shared or that has no practical day-to-day application for those involved in business.

All utter gubbins, of course. LinkedIn quietly gets on with the business of making money, because the number of paying users (as well as those who use it for free) keeps growing. Which means all sorts of people are getting value from it. On a daily basis I use it as an excellent news resource, an effective research tool and a useful networking aid.

Like all such social media/social networks it is constantly changing – and even though the frequent refreshes and revamps can be irritating, I’ve found most of those changes to be well-thought out and well-implemented.

Hell, even while critics were lining up to have a go at the much-maligned ‘endorsements’ facility, I held my tongue and find that each day I become slightly less indifferent toward it.

So I don’t lightly make the following complaint about the platform – and would love to know what others think?

Basically, I’ve always subscribed to the view that when it comes to making a connection, it is much better to personalise the message, rather than send the standard, automated version: “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”

With personalisation option

With personalisation option

Every LinkedIn trainer, enthusiast and heavy duty user seems to advise that to get the most out of the network it always pays to personalise your message when inviting someone to connect. Certainly, I always try to send a personal note and will think twice about accepting a request when it comes with the standard message, with no thought or effort put into it.

Which leaves me wondering why LinkedIn has failed to build in this personalised message option into the People You May Know page (see top image)? This is actually a really, really useful service. Virtually every time it appears there is someone listed who I think it would be useful to connect with.

But as soon as I click on the connect option up pops the message advising me that my request has been sent. No option to preview what is being issued and no option to add in my own message. Very, very annoying.

Even more vexing is the fact that if you get deep into your profile (to the invitations page), LinkedIn will serve up a more functional, less visually appealing version of its People You May Know Page (see second image) – and when you click the connect option here, you are immediately given the choice to send a personalised message.

Then again, I supposed I may be giving the whole issue too much thought. Still, I’d love to know your thoughts – personalise a connection request, or don’t bother?

When is an advertorial not an advertorial? When it’s ‘native advertising’

Native advertising

What is native advertising?

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on April 7, 2013.

Gotta love this change stuff, eh?

We’re no longer writers or story-tellers, we’re now content producers. We don’t crib, borrow or adapt ideas, we repurpose them. And my personal favourite? We no longer deal with advertorials – it’s now sponsored content on ‘native advertising’.

Say what? How this latest buzz phrase came about is beyond me, but native advertising is a term which is rattling around the  digital-savvy side of the media and gathering quite a lot of breathless hype on the way.

Coming from a print media background I found this hard to understand at first. I was weaned on newspapers when the Chinese wall between advertising and editorial was impenetrable. Back then advertorials were usually a low rent, low quality attempt to make unlikely products look like the subject of even more unlikely news stories.

They invariably stood out for the wrong reasons. The writing was ropey, the accompanying pics were usually mince. Oh aye – and there would be a great big strapline across the top or the bottom saying: “This is an advert”.

Funnily enough a recurring advertorial from the 1980s and 90s that sticks in my memory was for a book to help buyers improve … memory skills. Oh, the sweet irony.

The ad was usually accompanied by a 1950s-style line drawing of a Brylcreemed man wearing a blackout eye mask along with a number of patently made up, glowing testimonials from people with only one name (“I now remember everyone I meet!” – John, Cambridge) or referred to only by their initials (“I can memorise 100s of phone numbers!” – SJ, Doncaster).

It wasn’t just the tone and quality that was suspect. As well as feeling a bit sneaky, these ads disguised (badly) as news stories were tainted by the distinct whiff of ‘sad and desperate’. You get the picture. Credibility and advertorials weren’t close. Not even on nodding terms.

Now though the advertorial – or more accurately its 21st Century incarnation as native advertising – is being talked up as a possible financial saviour of news sites which have  struggled after giving content away free online, while seeing print advertising pounds melt away to digital advertising pennies.

Managing to put aside my lingering prejudices over bad advertorials from pushy carpet discount stores and smarmy car sales outlets, I can actually see why this might work and may even be a good thing.

Brands and businesses want to feature on credible news sites in a way that will encourage visitors to actually read about them, rather than simply paying for banner ads to be ignored.

So, the theory goes, those brands and businesses will have to start being interesting, useful or entertaining by paying to deliver content which sits alongside relevant news or editorial while adding actual value.

From a PR point of view this is potential winner for those agencies which are equipped to produce well-researched, news-focused, informative and non-salesy articles on behalf of clients. There could also be opportunities for entrepreneurial hacks prepared to try their hand at so-called ‘brand journalism’.

Meanwhile, I’m all for advances that will help support paid journalism, while readers could also benefit from easy access to genuinely useful content.

Needless to say there are also some extremely grave concerns about the continual blurring of those once clear lines between editorial and advertising.

Purists out there will be relieved to hear that Google has now stepped in and promised heavy web ranking penalties for those news sites which fail to make a clear distinction between editorial and paid for content.

Google has been the catalyst and carrier of so much change in the media landscape, so it’s good to see the search giant doing its bit to help preserve the sanctity of editorial integrity.

And for the record, no payment was exchanged to place this article here.

The real secret of *free* PR to grow your business

Get Rich Quick schemes

Get Rich Quick schemes

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on April 2, 2013

Get rich quick. Look 10 years younger with one simple trick. Develop rock hard abs in just six weeks.

Yawn. Now I can add to the list of unlikely sales pitches the following – use the power of *free* PR to grow your business.

My quizzical eyebrow started twitching this week, when an email crossed my desk from a client. They’d been messaged by an online business development guru, promising untold PR success – for free.

The email recounted a tale involving wildly successful TV and press coverage, all achieved for no cost and without any help or involvement from a PR advisor or professional.

In fact, the message went further,claiming this PR success wasn’t just free, it was easy. Ridiculously easy.

We media folks tend to be a cynical, jaded and hard-bitten bunch. But just in case there are any wide-eyes naifs out there, I’m going to let you in a wee secret:

There are no shortcuts. No foolproof way to make a fortune in the blink of an eye. No 10 minute secrets to looking a decade younger. No pain-free way to get a stomach like a washboard in a few short weeks.

And there is absolutely no free or ridiculously easy way to use public relations to grow a business.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this stuff and sadly it’s unlikely to be the last because, somewhat ironically, public relations has traditionally suffered from a wee perception problem – the belief that it’s easy and anyone can do it while barely breaking sweat.

Nobody disputes that a person with a compelling story which the media like can find themselves enjoying a quick and easy PR win.  However, sustaining that over the long haul to actually make an impact on the bottom line of a business? That takes graft, commitment, experience, guile and creativity.

Any prospective PR client should be encouraged to ask serious questions about the service they’ll receive.

Where will a constant stream of stories come from? Who’s going to identify them? How best to package them for different audiences?  What’s the right message? Where to look for bear traps and avoid pitfalls? How to tie results to business metrics and how to measure and evaluate success? Not to mention what do you do and who do you turn to if things go suddenly and spectacularly wrong.

None of this involves ‘free’ or ‘ridiculously easy’.

It’s tempting to believe that somewhere, alluringly just out of reach, there’s a magical solution to some of life’s difficult wee challenges. A way to live comfortably without the burden of a job or to have the body of Brad Pitt without the monotonous hours in the gym.

Reality is more prosaic. Few ‘get rich quick’ schemes stand up to scrutiny, because genuine business success actually requires years of hard graft and/or a killer product or service.

I’ve seen Channel 4’s 10 Years Younger. Unless you’ve been blessed with lucky genes, then knocking a decade off your age requires costly cosmetic surgery and dentistry, celebrity hairdressing, Hollywood make up assistance and a professional wardrobe adviser.

Rock hard abs in six weeks? Not with just a few sit ups, a simple dietary supplement or the latest muscle-building kit. In fact, if you devote yourself to a punishing gym routine and advanced nutrition you might see abs in six months.

And as for the enormous power of free PR?  Well I’ll be more than happy to share all my insider tips.

Just sign up for my (completely non-spammy) daily email newsletter, send £5 (purely for P&P, you understand) for my instructional CD and subscribe to my monthly webinars. No need to read the small print.

 

Sometimes a missed PR opportunity can be the best result of all

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on March 24, 2013.

First Group - ScotRail franchise operator

First Group – ScotRail franchise operator

Train operator ScotRail has just been involved in a wee case study of damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-dont media relations.

A finger-wagging report from The Scotsman’s Alastair Dalton tells us Scotland’s rail franchise operator ‘sparked anger’ after ‘snubbing’ a BBC documentary team. Tough-talking tabloid type words.

What we’ve got here is a classic media village story that’s nothing to do with service levels, delays, overpriced sandwiches, patchy onboard Wi-Fi or the nuts and bolts of what commuters really care about.

In fact it was almost entirely about the nature of public relations and playing the age-old poacher versus gamekeeper media game. From that point of view I couldn’t help but be interested.

As the article helpfully points out, ScotRail runs 95% of Scotland’s train services, so why did the company refuse to take part in the BBC’s programme, The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track? According to the piece, other train operators revelled in a ‘sympathetic portrait’ showing how much staff loved their jobs.

If the suggestion of a PR blunder at passing up such a golden opportunity wasn’t clear enough, there were a number of usual suspects lined up to helpfully point out the shortcomings of ScotRail’s comms and media team.

First up was Green MSP Patrick Harvie with this wee gem: “ScotRail’s public relations people are always happy to talk about their successes, and it’s disappointing that they don’t want the public to see a truly detailed picture of how they run a vital public service.”

Likewise an official from train drivers union Aslef rued the “missed opportunity to showcase the exceptional talents of their staff”, while Dave Watson, an official with Unison in Scotland, Tweeted: “ScotRail sensitive to publicity they don’t direct. Usually with good cause, but this an own goal”

Other Twitter reaction took a similar vein. Freelance journalist Andrew McFadyen ‏Tweeted: “It doesn’t surprise me that Scotrail snubbed the BBC. They have one of the least helpful press offices in Scotland.” Ooyah.

Another journalist and writer, Paul Bigland, had this to Tweet: “@ScotRail manage to turn an excellent PR opportunity #therailway into a very public own goal.”

That’s the ‘damned if you don’t’ bit. The negative tone of The Scotsman piece and some media-savvy Tweeters may smart a bit. But nobody in PR would stay in the game long if their hides weren’t thick enough to deflect the slings and arrows of disgruntled meeja types when they feel PR is getting in the way of a good story.

Should that be the sum total of the adverse coverage, then I reckon the ScotRail media and management teams will be high-fiving all round, because they just dodged a bullet. Had they participated in the documentary it could have been … well, a train wreck.

Perhaps surprisingly in a story all about the apparent shortcomings of PR people it was a journalist who pointed this out and rallied to defend ScotRail.

Nigel Harris, managing editor of RAIL magazine believes the team from the Beeb would have focused on characters who made the best TV, not necessarily the best ambassadors for the rail company. His assessment was blunt: “I commend ScotRail for holding out.”

I couldn’t agree more. Reality TV or fly on the wall documentary makers aren’t interested in ordinary workers – they are looking for outliers who will light up the screen with controversy, comedy, haplessness, heartbreak or hopelessness.

Sure, there’s a chance that ScotRail might’ve come out of something like that well, particularly if they were an underdog operator or a fresh new kid on the block. They’re not. They’re the big guy in a maligned sector whose experience is that messages about their successes (delays reduced by 50%, with passenger numbers up 20%) fall on deaf ears.

FirstGroup, which runs the £2.5 billion, ten-year ScotRail franchise, will be keen to hold on to the juicy contract (the biggest handed out by the Scottish Government) when it goes to tender in 2015. PR and public perceptions will play a role that.

ScotRail’s decision to walk away from this apparent TV “PR opportunity” meant lean pickings for the documentary makers and for journalists who can fill column inches with the cringe-inducing characters thrown up by fly-on-the-wall documentaries.

But with make or break commercial issues looming large, the job of the ScotRail PR team isn’t to give open access to reality TV crews, then cross their fingers and hope for a good result.

Whichever way ScotRail played this they were likely to get negative headlines of some sort. The storm in a teacup about some sort of missed PR opportunity is actually the exact opposite – almost certainly the best PR result ScotRail could have hoped for.

Rave baby Django and the tough question the media should really have asked.

A version of this post first appeared on All Media Scotland on February 6, 2013

Django: Good baby name?

Django: Good baby name?

Sometimes the media machine does a particularly brutal job of grinding up and spitting out the people, facts and issues at the centre of a news story.

It isn’t something the Fourth Estate should be particularly proud of.

My own first taste of this was 10 years ago, as I made the transition from tabloid hack to public relations flack.

At that time newly-formed public body Scottish Water was taking a pasting after an organism called Cryptosporidium was discovered in Glasgow’s water supply.  Independent public health experts took the decision to issue a precautionary ‘boil notice’ for all tap water – and media hell was unleashed.

Almost two weeks into the crisis I was drafted in to help support Scottish Water’s under-siege media team. Acclimatisation involved reviewing the extensive media coverage to date, as well as the statements and information issued on behalf of Scottish Water.

The shock to the system was pretty profound. As a hack I’d been involved in media feeding frenzies without any qualms. This was the first time I’d seen the results from the other side and it wasn’t edifying.

Reasoned responses and explanations where routinely ignored or jettisoned in favour of doomsday scenarios, panic-laden ‘what-ifs’ and flat out scaremongering, including calls for heads to roll.

Journalists are always going to be focused on the biggest story of the day. As a PR or communications professional a period of intensive and negative media scrutiny is a hazard you prepare for with crisis planning.

However, that water bug experience made me look at the media – the press in particular – in a different light thereafter. What perturbed and unsettled me most deeply was the abject lack of balance in the coverage.

Since then I’ve tried to take a contrary view on whatever big story is being rolled out by the media as, too often for my taste, I find the balance is skewed or missing.

For instance, consider the tale of the mum who took her baby to a rave in Wales. There’s no doubt The Sun landed themselves a corker of an exclusive.  The sheer incongruity and shock value makes for a cracking news story.

Add in the fact the concert was stopped by police after other revellers raised concerns and you have public interest and questions of moral and social responsibility to further lubricate the story. Track how it was re-reported across the web and a standout quote repeated over and over comes from Netmums, branding the mother ‘raving mad’.

For balance, the mother in question, Sarah-Jane Hulme was quoted, explaining her baby slept through the event; that she was there to see her older daughter’s band performing a first hometown gig; that she couldn’t leave the baby with a sitter because she was breastfeeding.

Yet that’s not really balance, is it? A lone mum’s protestations sound pretty lame in the face of Netmums condemnation, frowning cops and even a DJ who was ‘heard to say’ the mum was irresponsible.

I took a quick gander at Netmums myself. Sure, there was reaction from parents horrified at the thought of a baby being taken to a rave. But there were also a huge number of thoughtful comments and views supporting Ms Hulme. Those went unreported by the media.

Here’s a thought. A great news story is a great news story. A genuine attempt at balance simply makes such a story even better.

I’d have been offering The Sun far heartier congratulations on their scoop if they’d quoted Ms Hulme’s neighbours, relatives or colleagues at the National Trust for a more textured appraisal of her parenting skills. Or if they’d done the hard work of digging up an expert prepared to be quoted about the importance of shared mother-and-baby experiences that might challenge more traditional views.

Most of all though, I’d love to have seen the media outlet with the balls to ask the real burning question in all of this: What is likely to damage a child more? A night snoozing through a drum and bass gig while wearing industrial ear defenders– or a lifetime of finger pointing and snide comments for being named after a Quentin Tarantino cowboy?