Stuff and ThingsTop 50 UK PR Blogs 2013Top 50 UK PR Blogs 2013

Should you be transparent in your communications?

transparencyMore and more organisations are now conscious of being transparent in terms of how they run their business and who they do business with. Increasingly, this is becoming a significant PR exercise for some big tech companies who are being more transparent regarding their business activities.

Last year, Google and Facebook both released its facts and figures regarding the efficiency of their data centres; indeed many technology writers were surprised by the levels of efficiency each company claimed it had achieved.  Google even stated it has the world’s most efficient data centre. Joe Kava, senior director, data centre construction and operations for Google said, “In the same way that you might examine your electricity bill and then tweak the thermostat, we constantly track our energy consumption and use that data to make improvements to our infrastructure. As a result, our data centres use 50 percent less energy than the typical data centre.”  Facebook also recently released a tool which shows live updated efficiency figures from its data centres. The reaction to both Google and Facebook was positive and many saw it as the first step towards greater data centre transparency.

Another recent example of using transparency to gain media attention is a social media company Buffer who used a blog post to reveal their pay structure right from the CEO down to the secretary. The company was then inundated with CVs from prospective employees.  The media reaction was a little bit more mixed, with many people questioning whether it was an invasion of privacy.

Twitter also recently published a report on the diversity of their workforce. The report revealed that 90% of tech jobs at Twitter are filled by males. Twitter stated that “By becoming more transparent with our employee data, open in dialogue throughout the company and rigorous in our recruiting, hiring and promotion practices, we are making diversity an important business issue for ourselves.”  Companies such as Twitter and Google have been under pressure to do more to address diversity in their workplaces. However the reaction towards Twitter was quite negative, with many stating that the lack of diversity at Twitter was not surprising with over 90% of their workforce being male.

Using the media can aid businesses in demonstrating how transparent they really are, for example it can give consumers a chance to show exactly how things operate. However, businesses need to be aware that becoming more transparent might be seen by some as merely a back slapping exercise, which could then risk in negative PR. Therefore transparency must be managed correctly by businesses and not used in the wrong way.  

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Coverage Cup round up

Coverage cupOver the last fortnight, we have been involved in some interesting news hijacking activity. The ViaSat team were able to offer comment on the discovery of a major four-year cyber espionage operation, which resulted in coverage in InfoSecurity. While the Trace One team sold-in comment around the French government’s proposal to enforce the traffic light nutritional labelling system on traditional confectionery, which resulted in coverage in both Food Processing Technology and Food and Drink Technology.

Elsewhere, we have also seen a number of excellent national pieces of coverage. For example, Verizon were included in an in-depth feature in The Guardian on how to keep children safe online, offering their advice to parents. In the meantime, we also placed a range of opinion pieces in publications ranging from TechRadar Pro to Drug Discovery and Development magazine! 

The Register – Whoops, my cloud’s just gone titsup. Now what?

The Guardian – How do I keep my children safe online? What the security experts tell their kids

InfoSecurity – State-Sponsored Hackers from the East Attack Former Soviet Countries

Food Processing Techology – French chocolate makers oppose government’s proposal for colour coding chocolates

Food and Drink Technology – French chocolatiers oppose health labels

Drug Discovery and Development – Unlocking the Power of Big Data in R&D, Part One

TechRadar Pro – The lake and the stream: analogies to assist your big data strategy

The Telegraph – Londoners ‘twice as likely’ to have their phone stolen

MyCustomer – Seven steps to optimising your site for mobile commerce

Computer Weekly – Compuware & the ‘horizontal’ Agile LoB DevOps dream

Computing – Analyse first, store second says big-data analytics firm Guavus

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Has there ever been a more perfect PR topic than the smartphone?

smartphoneIf you work in PR you get used to seeing the same themes cropping up year after year (cloud, anyone?), and while they are not quite old-hat for us PR bods, we are certainly becoming very well-versed in them indeed. What it means in reality is that a lot of people are talking about the same thing and the same issues, so you have to work extra hard to come up with more creative and proactive ideas for clients (which obviously we’re very good at here at Spark.)

But smartphones, well, they are just the gift that keeps on giving. Recent news from Ofcom shows they are more popular than ever with internet use on smartphones growing seven times faster than on laptops and desktops. And in a business sense, they are now deemed the most important tool for running a business. Smartphones are also one of those rare B2B technologies that actually cross the business-consumer divide which makes them even more interesting to readers. So, although it sometimes feels like every business in the world is talking about smartphones and mobile devices (they probably are), their ubiquitous nature means there is always plenty of stuff for us PR folk to talk about.

Being so pervasive therefore results in the vast majority of our PR content and campaigns having a strong mobile angle. It also further opens up areas we can talk about because smartphones are so important to the business world. As a result, they give rise to lots of other, linked issues like data security; which is a shape-shifting constant companion of the smartphone. As smartphones continue to get harder, better, faster, stronger, the issues constantly change – which for PR purposes is great, as it gives rise to emerging topics such as second-screening.

Smartphones are one of those technologies that we all here at Spark personally use on an hourly basis so we can get even more excited about them than normal (and we get excited about the weirdest technologies, let me tell you). The beauty of mobile is that it has so many facets we’re never short of something to say about it; like whether consumers prefer mobile apps or mobile websites, the average number of workers using their own smartphones, the security of mobile wallets, or the importance of a mobile first strategy.

So, after my paean to that perfect PR technology, it does beg the question – what’s next? Will Google Glass be the next indispensable business tool, will devices we can swallow become the next omnipresent technology or will driverless cars be the de facto vehicle on driveways around the world? Whatever the answer, it’ll certainly be fun finding out and we’ll no doubt have plenty to say about it too.

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Coverage Cup round up: fortnightly edition

Coverage cupWelcome to the Spark Coverage Cup round up from the last fortnight – here are the highlights.  The Elsevier team secured opinion piece coverage in Information Age on the topic of Big Data, while Verizon were featured on BBC News Online as part of an in-depth article looking at data breaches.  Furthermore, as a result of the JDA team’s ongoing business press pitching activity, the supply chain company was featured as industry experts on Channel 4‘s Dispatches looking at the ‘Supermarket Wars’ – the episode is available to Watch on 4od now

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PR vs. Journalism – Who’s the Enemy, Here?

mediaThere’s always a simmering tension between journalism and PR. At its best, the relationship should be mutually beneficial: PR offering journalists information and context that will help with their stories, while journalists can test the credibility of PR claims, pointing out any potential flaws in the argument and, ultimately, making them more valuable. However, all too often the relationship can flare up into something a lot more heated: resulting in a mix of drama, comedy and unresolved romantic tension for onlookers. My hazy memory of 80s TV suggests it’s all a bit like Moonlighting.

In June this year, the tension broke into outright hostilities again. First came Robert Peston’s Charles Wheeler lecture, which bemoaned the apparently increasing influence of PR. This was followed up by further pieces from Nick Cohen and Roy Greenslade. In all three cases, the message was pretty clear, if expressed to slightly different degrees. PRs are the enemy, and journalists should fight increasing attempts from PRs to gain control of messages and stories, instead remembering that their core role is to uncover the story that doesn’t want to be revealed (or, as former Times editor Louis Heren so memorably put it, “Why is this lying bastard lying to me?”).

My first reaction on reading these pieces was to search for vic-and-bob-handbags.gif. The second was to point out that by far the most cited examples of PR evil seem to come from ex-journalists (with the often-reviled Alistair Campbell a leading figure there), and that newspapers themselves haven’t shied away from completely manufacturing stories in order to, e.g., start the odd war. However, with more than a month’s reflection on board, two things have become clear. First, the journalists quoted deal with the financial and political space, rather than the B2B technology waters I swim in where, simply because of the nature of the press and industry, journalist / PR relations are somewhat necessary. More importantly, reading each of the pieces shows that the problem here lies not simply with PR, which is exploiting an obvious opportunity, but with the press itself. Quite simply, reduced budgets and increased pressure to generate content mean that journalists have little option but to rely more and more on PRs for information and ideas, and less time to check and double-check any claims made. At the same time, the need for funding means that paid-for content, or advertorial, becomes a much more attractive way to fill out editorial space.

However, I don’t think this represents some sort of grand victory of PR for the hearts and minds of the people. The problem is, to my understanding, PR needs journalists and an independent, journalistic voice in order to succeed. The average consumer isn’t stupid, especially in the B2B audience. If they see that stories are essentially re-heated press releases, or blatant propaganda, then they will believe them less and less. Eventually, PR will have about as much value as simply buying advertising space and spreading press releases far and wide across the newswires, and at that point exactly what use are we? Instead, PR should be encouraging in-depth, well-funded journalism regardless of industry, as otherwise our symbiotic (or some might say parasitical) relationship with journalists will wither.

I have to admit, I don’t have any immediate solution for how to make well-funded journalism magically happen. The issues have been there for a long time: both in terms of being able to fund journalism and actually attract and keep talent in order to do the vital work. Many journalists switch to PR, not because they want to turn to “the dark side” but because, especially at the lower levels, journalism is a thankless and often poorly-rewarded career. I still remember being made redundant from one, already low-paid journalistic post in a takeover only to be re-offered the same post for even less. At which point I went off to do office temping as it actually paid enough to support my family. Ultimately, there may not be much us PRs can do directly to switch things around. However, if we can make sure we’re supporting in-depth journalism where possible and making clients and the public aware of the benefits proper, well-funded journalism provides, we might at least help stem the tide a little.

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