Is it news? Is it PR? No, it’s a flagrant shill by three ailing brands.

Schill-y Billys

Nobody wants to see a successful Microsoft Windows smart phone more than I do.

There are many reasons for this, but the simplest is financial.

My business is built and runs on Microsoft and a smart phone which synced seamlessly with that tech while also giving intuitive and simple access to the web and social media would be a boon.

I am about to start a month-long trial of a Windows phone and will be blogging about that, warts and all.

This week the launch of the new Nokia Lumia 800 phone with the Windows operating system has been a much-anticipated tech story – and it’s easy to see why.

it signals the first joint foray into smart phone market by two ailing giants  – Microsoft and Nokia – which once dominated their sectors, only to be rapidly eclipsed and roundly confounded by Apple and Google.

Be in no doubt, both are badly in need of a success story.

There may still be more Nokia phones on the planet than any other brand. But that is because its basic handsets are cheap and affordable in the developing world. In the developed world its  sales have gone off a cliff, with Apple, Android and Blackberry dominating the profitable smartphone market.

Meanwhile, Microsoft may still be raking in huge profits, but it is in danger of missing the mobile revolution in the same way it lost search to Google. PC sales are dwindling as customers move to mobile devices and despites its profits it is now dwarfed by arch-rival Apple and has so far failed to come up with a decent tablet PC.

Analysts and commentators say both Microsoft and Nokia may have left it too late to make a real impact on the smartphone market. They may be right. However, just five years ago neither the iPhone nor Android existed. They’ve had a meteoroic rise, so it should be possible for Windows and Nokia – with a good enough product, well enough marketed – to still become a player.

Positive PR around the joint Windows-Nokia phone launch is critical. So far the tech experts I follow have all praised the Windows operating system as being a pleasure to use, yet still distinct different from its rivals. Nokia’s reputation for excellent hardware means the quality of the device is almost a gimme.

What about word of mouth? The woman who provides IT support to us at Holyrood PR is not your typical geek and doesn’t fit the stereotype of sullen, malodorous, socially inept basement-dweller. She’s outgoing, glam and funny. She is also an Apple Mac aficionado. When discussing the new Windows phone she told me: “It’s supposed to be brilliant.”

In fact, everyone I’ve spoken to about the new Windows phone says something similar. The tech reviews and user comments have all been positive. The buzz in the early adopter community has been upbeat. All of this gives Microsoft-Nokia the right platform to build on.

Here’s the thing about PR success though – it is also known as ‘earned media’. This is because newspapers, bloggers and news sites are notoriously protective about what graces their pages.

You have to earn your way in – by being interesting, relevant or newsworthy. If you want a carefully varnished plug for your product, the way to do that is to pay for advertising.

No-one knows that better than the newspapers. You can pay for an advert which looks like a news story – but it will always say ‘advertorial’ or ‘advertising feature’ across the top.

As a former journalist I value that even our newspaper with virulent political agendas still draw the line at shameless product placement. I’m even prepared to look the other way when Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers plug his Sky TV shows – or when Daily Star and Daily Express owner Richard Desmond does the same to promote Channel 5.

So I was left speechless by this affront to journalism which appeared in Wednesday’s Daily Express. Knowing my interest in the subject my missus thoughtfully cut it out and kept it for me.

Read it and weep. I showed it to my business partner and he shook his head sadly and said he’d never – in 25 years – seen such a horrendous case of an advert masquerading as a bona fide news story. I have to agree.

Full page ad

I suspect it is not coincidence that the back page of that day’s Daily Express was taken up by … drum roll … a full page, colour ad for the Nokia Lumia 800 with Windows.

I don’t know which saddens me more about this horrible media Frankenstein.

That the once proud and mighty Express cheapens its legacy by plumbing such depths.

Or that the PR people with Microsoft-Nokia would tarnish genuine, positive ‘earned media’ success by grafting on this gratuitous and groveling promotion.

Whatever way you look at this, it treats the reader/consumer as  imbeciles, suggesting ordinary people are too stupid to see through a flagrant shill.

Maybe execs with  each of these three companies – all diminished giants in their chosen arenas – should consider that at the next crisis meeting to discuss why their brands seem to be on a relentless down slope.

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