Good reasons to be at LeWeb London in June

LeWeb London 2013In ten days time, LeWeb London takes place. The overall theme is the sharing economy; the speaker line-up is fabulous, the agenda is compelling and, so, far, over 850 people have booked to be there on June 5 and 6.

This third LeWeb conference in London – to complement the winter LeWeb Paris that’s been happening every year since the mid 00s – looks set to be as good as every LeWeb in recent years, and will once again feature live video events including Google Hangouts On Air that I participated in for previous LeWebs.

This time, I’ll be physically at the event, as one of the official bloggers. I’m looking forward to the overall experience and meeting and  connecting with some interesting people, friends and new encounters.

If you’re thinking about going to LeWeb London, but have yet to finally decide and book your ticket, here are nine good reasons that will help you make up your mind.

9 reasons

Compelling headline reasons:

  1. Explore the revolutionary sharing economy
  2. Hear from and connect with leading speakers
  3. Meet people from around the world
  4. Meet and talk to press and bloggers
  5. Find and secure key investors
  6. Connect with leading companies
  7. Find the next wave of great startups
  8. Explore and experience an amazing city
  9. And find opportunities

See you there?

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Survey reveals youthful aspirations for the future of business communication

Four young professionals

One of the characteristics of the contemporary communications landscape is how it’s constantly changing.

Predicting how advertising, marketing, public relations and the broad business communications spectrum will evolve and what it all may look like over the next decade requires vision and a clear line of sight on what you want to see.

That’s precisely what some university graduates have done, as illustrated in a report published today by the MediaSchool Group.

Titled “The Next Generation of Marcoms,” the report is the result of a survey of more than 2,000 students in the UK, France, Spain and Belgium aged between 20 and 25 studying advertising, marketing communications, design, PR and events.

Headline metrics:

  • Over 80% think stand-alone social media and digital marketing agencies will disappear within ten years “as the channel becomes a discipline for all marketers.”
  • 70% believe the marketing landscape will be ‘dominated’ by content marketing and ‘PR Thinking.
  • Facebook is the overwhelming choice as the ‘most important’ social media tool a brand can use to communicate to this generation.
  • This generation is critical of the marketing communications industry for enjoying ‘unfair subsidy’ via unpaid internships and ‘not doing enough’ on sustainability.
  • 86% want to work for agencies that are as much about the creation of social good as about creating profit for brands.

There are laudable sentiments expressed in much of the opinions, characteristic of the youthful aspirations of those surveyed (remember: we, too, were 20-25 once).

Some of them might raise an eyebrow or two among more seasoned practitioners.

The disappearance of specialty digital/social agencies, for instance. While the practice of tactical social media use may well become another element of practicing the communication craft, as it were, I’d argue that they won’t disappear entirely. Some skills may make sense bringing in from outside, rather than developing them yourself, on an as-needed basis.

I’d say such virtual skills acquisition fits with evolving behaviours and practices in collaboration and virtual team-building where communities are formed that transcend or push through traditional organization demarcations and barriers.

Facebook as the most important social tool for communicating ten years from now? Doubtful when the whole social web and behaviours are evolving so rapidly. I wonder if Facebook will still be here in three-to-five years, never mind ten. Or still in its current form.

Here’s a selection of more metrics that caught my eye:

  • Only 40% agreed with a recent statement by Sir Martin Sorrell that Twitter was not an advertising medium.
  • 81% either agreed or strongly agreed that content marketing where brands become publishers and creators of their own content would be essential part of their job in 10 years.
  • 68% disagreed or strongly disagreed that TV advertising would be ‘irrelevant’ in 10 years time.
  • 70% said that in 10 years, advertising’s job would be mostly to ‘entertain’ and not to ‘sell.’
  • 64% thought that in 10 years time the agency they worked for would pay them the same salary as a member of the opposite sex.
  • 78% believed the marcoms industry enjoys an unfair subsidy provided by this generation – more than any generation before.
  • 26% of students had worked unpaid for more than three months.
  • 5% had worked unpaid for six months.
  • 45% worked unpaid for 2 months.
  • 70% thought that marcoms agencies were not doing enough to create a sustainable world.
  • 86% said the agency they want to work for would have to be as much about the creation of social good as about creating profit for brands.
  • 54% said Publicis was the Most Admired International Marcoms Group (Omnicom 11%, WPP 10%, IPG 2%).
  • The most admired advertising agency was also Publicis 28%, then TBWA (15%) and Havas (12%)
  • The most admired PR agency was Ogilvy PR (31%) followed by Edelman (15%) and Hill & Knowlton (13%).

Of particular note are the startling percentages relating to unpaid intern work, suggesting this still is a troubling issue that the communications business in Europe must address and quickly.

I can’t find a link to the published survey report anywhere online; maybe the MediaSchool Group will post that soon, and I’ll update this post if I see it. (I received the survey information on May 17 in an embargoed press release; I agreed to respect that embargo.) [May 22:] the report (PDF) is now available online.

Volvo Trucks creates a broad footprint across the social web for new truck launch

Paparazzi ChallengeSome of the most imaginative uses of social media in support of marketing and brand communication are in the car industry.

If you follow what’s happening in that industry from a social media perspective, you’ll know about what companies like Ford (surely today’s poster child for the social car industry) and General Motors in the US, Opel in Germany and Nissan globally are doing – just four examples of imagination and creativity at work, clearly supporting measurable business goals.

The car industry’s automotive big brother, trucks, isn’t an industry that naturally comes to my mind when I think of social media.

Yet here’s a terrific example of what one truck maker is doing that embraces multiple social channels and approaches to produce a compelling example of how imagination and creativity is key to securing target-audience engagement with a measurable – and hopefully successful – outcome.

Tomorrow, March 19, Volvo Trucks formally launches its Volvo FM line of trucks in Europe. The trucks feature technical innovation in the steering, for instance, that the company says “gives the driver effortless steering at low speeds as well as unbeatable directional stability on the open road.”

As part of its pre-launch awareness-raising prep for the new vehicle, Volvo Trucks has been running a contest over the past few weeks that is very much in the vein of what car makers and others selling consumer products do – the Paparazzi Challenge:

We have sent two new Volvo FM on a tour of Europe. If you take the very first photo of one before it’s launched, you can test-drive it on an all expenses paid trip to Gothenburg, Sweden. We award the same prize to the best photo from each country.

Volvo Trucks produced a short video explaining what the contest is, how it would work, and how to participate.

The contest was promoted online in places such as Worldtrucker, a major online trucker community (sponsored by Volvo and open to truckers driving any marque, not just Volvo).  Each photo taken and uploaded to the website connected with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Worldtrucker for easy sharing, thus spreading the contest word across the social web.




And the word clearly did spread throughout the trucker community, and those interested in trucks – or those prompted by the idea of the contest to snap a pic when they saw one of the trucks on their journeys criss-crossing Europe.

The only question I have is over the choice of hashtag: #paparazzi. Pretty generic and non-exclusive, I’d say, perhaps reflected in how hard it is to find any mention of Volvo Trucks or the Volvo FM amongst all the noise around that hashtag.

Still, hundreds of photographs of the Volvo FM trucks have been uploaded and shared to the Paparazzi Challenge website, many of them further shared via the connected social networks. An interactive map of Europe shows how many photos were posted in each country, with links to each photo.

On the eve of the formal launch tomorrow of the new trucks, the two much-photographed travelling trucks are now back at home base in Sweden and the contest is closed.

Already there are lucky prize winners from each country the trucks were seen it. They’ll soon be test-driving the Volvo FM themselves. And Volvo Trucks will have gained a niche but broad footprint on the social web with all those images of and talk about the new truck in real-world conditions, just waiting to be served up in search results and discovered and shared on social networks.

Not bad results from a drive across Europe.

  • Bonus video – last year, Volvo Trucks conducted an imaginative PR stunt to demonstrate the precision control a driver has with a Volvo FH truck. Check out The Ballerina Stunt at YouTube – and hold your breath!

[This post is part of an experiment in brand story-telling.]

In a crisis of reputation and trust, the personal touch is everything

Horsemeat headlines

The horsemeat scandal in Europe continues at the centre stage of attention with more bad news appearing almost daily in lurid newspaper headlines like those above in some UK tabloids as more beef products contaminated with horsemeat are discovered in many European countries.

Alongside the original headline-grabbers about supermarkets in the UK such as Tesco, Asda, Lidl and Iceland and brands such as Findus are newer appearances by global brands like Ikea, Burger King and Taco Bell – some of whose food products were found to contain horsemeat and not be ’100% beef’ – where consumer confidence has been badly shaken.

Indeed, since this scandal erupted in January, sales of processed meat products across Europe have fallen dramatically – by 40 percent or more in some food categories.

A big shift in consumer purchasing behaviour has happened very quickly; whether it’s a long-term or permanent shift is yet to be seen.

The feeling is clearly what you see is most definitely not what you get. When the retailers were as surprised and alarmed by the scandal as consumers were – clearly the retailers don’t know enough about their own supply chains – the big question is ‘Who do you trust?’. A well-established brand name no longer cuts the mustard, as it were, in garnering trust (annual reports like Edelman’s Trust Barometer offer credible proof of such declines and shifts in trust, and the reasons).

Food retailing is huge business. In the UK, the grocery retailing market was worth £163.2 billion (€188.4b, $245.4b) in 2012, according to the Institute of Grocery Distribution. That’s more than half of all UK retail spending.

Given the majority share of this valuable market that the big supermarkets enjoy, what’s been interesting to see is how they have been handling this crisis of consumer confidence, reputation and trust.

This weekend, Tesco – the biggest food retailer in the UK and the third-largest globally – took out ads in the mainstream media, like the one below that appeared in the Telegraph on March 2.

Tesco double-page spread in the Telegraph, March 2, 2013

This photo of the ad doesn’t do justice to its majestic size – a double-page spread in a broadsheet newspaper. That means a height of nearly two feet and a width of two-and-a-half feet (in metric: 60cm x 75cm).

It certainly grabs your attention.

Yet as a message, I wonder how effective it actually is. I’ve wondered before what such corporate apology-type ads really achieve. They look to me as if they’re more about a feel-good factor for the advertiser with a big-size-matters message – two feet by two-and-a-half! – rather than aiming to achieve any kind of effective resonance with a target audience (and how can you, really, in a mass medium?)

I don’t know what Tesco’s communication strategy is concerning this crisis of reputation and trust nor its goals for this particular ad. The message wording on the right-hand page of the newspaper spread isn’t engaging at all, in my subjective opinion of course.

On the contrary, I found it a bit patronising if not condescending, reinforced by its anonymous informality. (Click on the image above to see it at Flickr in its full 2448 x 3264 pixels glory where you can also read the wording clearly.)

I’m not sure at all that anyone is provoked into taking any kind of action in response to such bland, impersonal messaging.

I contrast this to what I’ve seen in focused, personal messaging by Tesco and other retailers in how they have reached out directly to consumers via email.

Compare Tesco’s press ad to the wording and overall approach of an email I received from Tesco this week.

Tesco email

It’s the second email I’ve received from Tesco. With this latest one, some clear consistency in messaging is apparent with it and the press ad.

What’s most notable to me, though, is that it’s from an identifiable individual whose name appears at the end of the message – Philip Clarke, the CEO of Tesco. It’s written in the first person, from him to me (and to the millions of other individual members of Tesco’s customer loyalty programme  who will have received such an email).

It’s far more likely to influence me into a) giving it any attention, and serious attention at that; and b) heeding any specific calls to action. Which I did – I visited, the new website Tesco set up as a focal point for communicating all they’re doing in relation to the horsemeat scandal.

And what of the other supermarkets?

I’ve not seen any press ads like Tesco’s from any of them – but, caveat: as I don’t buy or read printed newspapers except the Telegraph at the weekend, I may have missed any if ads have appeared – but I have received email from some, those whose loyalty programmes I’m a member of or have otherwise got onto an email database.

Sainsbury’s, for example. The UK’s third-biggest food retailer has not been named as one with any horsemeat-contaminated products, a factor they emphasise in the email signed by Justin King, their CEO.

Sainsbury's email

And they go beyond that emphasis by highlighting what they know of their own supply chain – a key aspect of re-building some confidence in the minds of consumers, which could well be a significant competitive differentiator in the months ahead.

A similar message comes from Waitrose, the food retailing part of John Lewis, in an email signed by Mark Price, Managing Director.

Waitrose email

My final exhibit is an email I received from Marks and Spencer, signed by Steve Rowe, its Executive Director Foods.

Its focus, too, is on the company’s supply chain and the strength of its relationship with its suppliers.

Marks & Spencer email

Other than C-Suite or other senior executive signings, what all of these email communications have in common is the clear statements regarding their supply chains and how confident each executive is in the relationships their businesses have.

(That’s a key point, incidentally: it’s about those individuals, more than their businesses. So you want to find out a bit about them. Note to those companies: you need to do a much better job on executives’ bios. I can read the corporate bios on the websites, but I just Google the names and probably go to Wikipedia. Not enough information. Give them discoverable and shareable info on the social web. LinkedIn would be a good place to start.)

They’re all good messages, ones that I think will be foundational going forward as elements in ‘trust construction’ (I don’t think we can talk about ‘rebuilding’ until this crisis has fully passed).

But it’s very thin ice everyone is walking on.

So far, there’s nothing concrete to suggest any threat to human health from beef products that contain horsemeat. So far, everything has been about mis-labelling and possible frauds somewhere in the supply chains out there at the edge, away from the point of sale.

How quickly that ice will break, plunging everyone into deep and very cold water, if human health comes into question or if horsemeat contamination is found in fresh meat products.

And consider how related and connected everything is these days – if more contamination is discovered in food products in restaurants, schools, hospitals and other places, think of the knock-on effects that will likely have on people’s perceptions and what they buy in the supermarket.

Email communication like that I’ve mentioned here is, broadly speaking, one of the most effective tools that you can use to reach out directly to your customers, if you do it right. If that’s part of other genuinely-personal outreach approaches via social media channels, clearly integrated with all other communication activity, then you will have a solid foundation to confidently communicate to support your business.

All of the companies I’ve mentioned in this post do have presences across the social web in places like Facebook and Twitter. Yet, in my view from  observing what’s going on, they’re all largely marketing channels. What you want is genuine engagement, not lame contests and how many ‘likes’ you can get.

If that ice does break, you’ll need every connection you can muster, where you have invested your time and effort to build those genuine relationships with individuals who will want to tell your story (David Phillips has a few ideas about that).

And that’s not a story of corporate-apology ads: it’s one of farmers and suppliers, the relationship connections between people rather than a mechanical-sounding supply chain.

Above all it’s about how people and conversations are the constituent elements in building trust in you, your company and your brand (in that order).

It’s about the personal touch, a belief that the individual as a customer really does matter.

It’s a powerful thing.

(Image at top via Gene Hunt, used under Creative Commons license.)

[Later:] In a twist to the tail on testing products for horsemeat contamination, CBC reports on the strange surprise food authorities in Iceland (the country) got when testing locally-produced meat pies:

[...] Icelandic meat inspector Kjartan Hreinsson says his team didn’t find any horsemeat, but one brand of locally produced beef pie left it stumped: it contained no meat at all.

“That was the peculiar thing,” Hreinsson said in a telephone interview Friday. “It was labelled as beef pie, so it should be beef pie.”

Hreinsson said it appeared to be some kind of vegetable matter. He said the mystery pie was traced to a firm in western Iceland and the case had been handed to municipal authorities.

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When robots rule the world


The idea that computers rather than people could make decisions about other people’s intentions in the workplace that I wrote about recently – an IBM security tool can flag “disgruntled employees” – may be the tip of an evolutionary iceberg that spotlights a wider and deeper issue facing developed countries like the US and many of the EU member states.

The Financial Times reports on how the US economy is becoming steadily more automated and how manufacturing employment is shrinking (and doing so worldwide, the FT notes) while manufacturing activity rises.

[…] During Mr Obama’s presidency, IBM’s Watson has proved computers can outfox the most agile minds, drones have become America’s weapon of choice, the driverless car is now a reality and the word “app” has been detached from its origin. No longer the realm of science fiction, the rise of robots now poses the central economic dilemma of the Obama era.

See a fuller assessment in this FT Alphaville video discussion.

I wonder how much such workplace automation is behind unemployment statistics for the European Union such as reported by the EU Observer yesterday:

Eurostat estimates 25.926 million men and women in the EU were unemployed in December 2012, with 18.715 million of them in the euro area. In both zones, rates have risen markedly compared with December 2011, from 10.7% to 11.7% in the eurozone and from 10.0% to 10.7% in the EU.

The eye-popping metric – almost 26 million people across the EU (total population over 503 million) are without a job.

The reality may not be dystopian but it’s not a pretty picture.

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Shape the debate about the UK and the EU

David Cameron EU speech

A few days ago, Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech in London on what he called “the future of Europe,” setting out his stall about the UK, the European Union, Europe itself and how he sees the future for these entities.

I watched his live delivery on the TV news. I liked much of what I heard: in essence, a call to action for anyone with a point of view about the UK’s future as a member of the EU, or not, to articulate that point of view, and contribute to the debate. “Join the conversation,” if you will.

I am quite sure the conversation that will ensue between now and the end of this Parliament’s life in 2015 will encompass the widest diversity of opinion about the European Union and the UK’s role in and/or with it that it’s possible to imagine. The conversation will undoubtedly get very ugly at times among the politicians, special interest groups, and others. Indeed, also no doubt among friends in the pub on a Saturday night.

The culmination of Cameron’s call to action will be a referendum offered to voters in the United Kingdom during the first half of the next Parliament after 2015 to decide, in a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote, whether they wish the United Kingdom to remain a member of the EU, or quit. That, said Cameron, will happen if his Conservative Party wins the next election and if he continues as Prime Minister.

There were a lot of ifs, and no mention of what may or may not happen if his party is in a coalition government again. No details in the speech either but, said Cameron, that’s coming:

[…] The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.

It will be a relationship with the Single Market at its heart.

And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.

It will be an in-out referendum.

Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.

So in the coming months, and continuing right through to 2015, I’d expect to see a great deal of communication about this issue, certainly from David Cameron and the Conservative Party, but also from the other political parties who will want to make their own cases for how they see the UK’s future in or out of the EU, even if any of them already have articulated a view on whether they think citizens should be able to vote on this matter or not (I’m looking at you, Ed Milliband).

While the politicos in Westminster will have their say – and think about where such people rank in the latest trust barometer from Edelman, published earlier this week – I’d also like to hear what others in public service think. For instance, what do the 100+ bloggers at our embassies around the world think and sense where they are? Especially those in embassies and consulates in EU countries.

And I expect every channel across the social web will play a significant role as not only the conduit for communicating the various points of view everyone has but also stimulating that conversation, facilitating engagement on and offline – the contemporary manifestation of our freedom of speech and how we exercise it.

If you’d like to read the text of David Cameron’s speech, and see the recording of him delivering it, you can do so at the Number 10 website and at YouTube respectively. You can also read the speech (and download a PDF copy) right here in this embedded Scribd document I made.

(As an aside, there’s a great backstory here, about Clare Foges, the woman who is Cameron’s chief speech-writer and who wrote this speech. The Daily Mail has the story which, unfortunately, reads like the rejected script from one of the storylines in Love Actually. But, see though the sickliness of the writing for some insight into the inner workings of Cameron’s close team.)

The Economist this week has a good risk assessment of Cameron’s call, labeling him ‘The gambler.’ And a wicked cover!

It looks like Europe will continue to be a hot topic in the UK for years to come. This time, though, our whingeing, supporting, complaining, championing, disparaging and everything else might actually have some point.

What a terrific communication challenge. And an opportunity to help shape the debate if you join in, whatever your point of view.

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