PR spam on an industrial scale

Spamalot

When done well, PR pitching can be almost an art form.

If your pitch meets the criteria of the recipient of your outreach, its likely your message will be well received and may even produce the action you are aiming for.

The opposite is also true when a pitch is as thoughtless in its creation as it is mindless in its execution. You know the kind of thing I mean, email pitches in particular.

What if such pitching were to be automated, where the targets of your pitch weren’t individually assessed to see if each were the “right” target for your message (and for your client or employer)?

Instead, what if you created a hit list of thousands of email addresses and hit them up with automated email pitches on the basis that if you hit a large enough quantity, a small but sufficient enough number will respond to make your effort worthwhile.

Sound familiar?

That’s what PR Hacker is doing in the US, according to a report in The Holmes Report quoting PR Hacker founder Ben Kaplan describing the business approach from his previous experiences in book promotion that he’s bringing to his PR firm:

[...] His model relies on A/B testing and 1% conversions from massive media blasts to generate lots [of] media coverage quickly for clients – without the status reports, weekly update calls and other administrative overhead of traditional agencies.

Here’s how that works. The PR Hacker team blasts pitches to a database of 7,000 tech media and expects a 1% conversion to land its client, at least, 70 hits. Kaplan also keeps databases on money/business media and relationship/romance media that each have upwards of 5,000 contacts – so a multi-vertical pitch, by his estimates, should yield close to 200 hits assuming the minimum 1% conversion. To keep the pitches from seeming too much like spam, he personalizes various fields within each pitch.

“We A/B test our pitches on the lower tier guys first,” he explains. “Then we go to the top-tier with what’s been tested…And a great story will trump all. So rather than focusing too much on personalizing, we focus on getting the story right.”

Looks to me like an approach to spam on an industrial scale. At least, a “by the numbers” game.

Is this what this element of public relations practice will become? A percentage return on a massive database-blast investment? It doesn’t look like it will fit well with professional standards of behaviour defined by the PR establishment, not in the UK at least.

Yet Kaplan’s approach is clearly outside such standards – perhaps the clue is in the name of his firm – and goodness knows some poor PR behaviour may benefit from a shake-up that Kaplan could well be responsible for.

In any case, get your email spam filters up-to-date.

[Picture at top by Coast to Coast Tickets who have lots of tickets for Monty Python Spamalot performances across the US this year. I thought the Spamalot metaphor works well for this post.]

Valuable insights in 2014 #InternetTrends report by Mary Meeker

netflix-chromecast.jpg

Last week, US venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst Mary Meeker published her 2014 Internet Trends report that offers a deep-dive look into the trends, possibilities, probabilities, scope and scale of what the global connected world will look like in the coming few years.

It highlights trends to pay attention to, offering keen insights into what’s shaping this connected world:

  1. Key internet trends showing slowing internet user growth but strong smartphone, tablet and mobile data traffic growth as well as rapid growth in mobile advertising.
  2. Emerging positive efficiency trends in education and healthcare.
  3. High-level trends in messaging, communications, apps and services.
  4. Data behind the rapid growth in sensors, uploadable / findable / shareable data, data mining tools and pattern recognition.
  5. Context on the evolution of online video.
  6. Observations about online innovation in China.

At 164 pages, the slide deck is huge in its scope, and a challenge to decipher detailed meaning from just a deck without the benefit of hearing its creator talk you through it (she did that at the event last week for which she had prepared the deck).

Many others are filling the vacuum to do that. I have some thoughts, too, on a few areas from the 164 slides. I expand on that below, but if you want to just feast on all of Meeker’s data right now, here’s the deck:

Last year’s 2013 Internet Trends report was 117 pages, a slim volume by comparison. Indeed, I found it it a relatively simple matter to quickly glean and absorb insights from her deck to come up with what I saw in May 2013 as fifteen big trends for the evolving digital age.

A year later, how does the landscape look?

Here are three elements from the 2014 report that caught my attention (and imagination).

1. The rise of the mobile internet and the mobile devices that people want to use on the web are irresistible

The first aspect is the steady increase in shipments of smartphones (Wikipedia definition) worldwide since 2009 …

mm2014slide06

…  and, in tandem, the rocketing growth in tablet (Wikipedia definition) shipments which overtook shipments of desktop and notebook PCs at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.

And notice the massive uptick in tablet shipments that started at the end of the first quarter in 2013 …

mm2014slide07

… which makes it easy to understand in the context of the increasing numbers of people accessing content on the web via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets in May 2014 compared to the same time in 2013. While there isn’t a slide to show how connectivity – whether wired, wireless or cellular – is growing everywhere, these figures surely provide convincing evidence that that is what’s happening.

And global mobile usage average has almost doubled year on year, broadly reflecting the detail in each of the regions measured.

mm2014slide09

What these metrics say to me is this: if your presence on the web isn’t attuned to mobile – meaning, your site delivers the content people want and a great experience they expect when they come to you on their mobile devices – you’re in serious trouble.

2. The evolution of mobile apps

If using the web on a mobile device is increasing at a rapid pace as smartphones and tablets eclipse desktops and laptops, the requirement for mobile tools – apps – to let you do what you want on your mobile connected device is equally increasing at a rapid pace …

mm2014slide40

… where those apps are evolving into tools of genuine utility for the user, that let you do certain things very well.

So instead of being all things to all men, so to speak, many apps are shifting into specific use formats …

mm2014slide41

… that offer you context-aware interactions that, as TechCrunch notes, are purpose-built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors to interact with you in far more compelling ways than at present to maximize their usefulness to you.

3. Game changers for mobile TV and video consumption

Meeker’s slide deck has a great deal of content about the rise of personalized television where you the user define what the content is that you will watch and where you get it from (think of custom user preferencing in Netflix and Chromecast, as examples of this), and how you control it.

Consumers increasingly expect to watch TV content on their own terms.

I have a good example: watching a film that’s delivered from Netflix where I control its output with my smartphone or tablet to play on my digital smart television via wifi connection to the Chromecast dongle plugged in to the HDMI port on the TV. No traditional TV broadcaster in this transmission/consumption equation at all.

mm2014slide124

For me, this text slide summarizes very well the key aspects of all this, the “televisual game changers.”

mm2014slide126

And so, a small subset of the compelling content in Mary Meeker’s 164 pages of metrics and insights that make up her Internet Trends 2014 report. My focus has very much been on mobile. That’s by accident and by design – I didn’t plan this post to be like that, yet all the things that grabbed my attention that I’ve written about here are all to do with mobile.

Well, maybe not everything. Big data trends, for instance.

mm2014slide60

Do review the full deck and see what strikes you as compelling. And some of the other reporting on it is pretty good, adding to the ways in understanding what the report is about:

Download the PDF report here: 2014 Internet Trends By Mary Meeker or view the deck on Slideshare.

Perspectives on social business at Social Business Sessions London

Iron ManIf you’re keen to explore different perspectives on organization culture, social business, enterprise 2.0 and the nature of work, an event in London I’m participating in this coming week could be right up your street.

The Combined Social Business Session – London #e20s takes place on Wednesday June 4 at Yammer’s EMEA headquarters, from 6pm to 9pm. You can participate without cost; all you have to do is sign up.

Organized by David Terrar, Janet Parkinson and Alan Patrick – who, I just realized,  I first met around eight years ago now – it’s one of the monthly Social Business Sessions London events at which a mix of a main 20-minute presentation, 5-minute lightning talks and an unconference-style panel discussion makes for a stimulating environment for informal exchanges of ideas and opinion, all with pizza and wine.

I was thrilled to be asked to do the main presentation in which I will focus on a mix of ideas that will form a broad perspective on those four elements mentioned above that are key to the principles of these events.

Or, as David put it in the email he sent out last week to members of the event group:

Our main speaker this time is our good friend and well known communicator, blogger, and podcaster Neville Hobson. Neville’s well known on the London social media scene, as well as being on Microsoft’s list of social business influencers in the UK. His talk will expand on a recent blog post of his titled “Foundations for evolving relationships between people and machines”. He’ll use Gartner’s Hype Cycle to discuss the following emerging trends and areas:

  1. Augmenting humans with technology
  2. Machines replacing humans
  3. Humans and machines working alongside each other
  4. Machines better understanding humans and the environment
  5. Humans better understanding machines
  6. Machines and humans becoming smarter

He’ll take those ideas forward and talk specifics like the Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Big Data and augmented reality, leading to the way they are changing the enterprise and the world of work.

Sounds good!

The blog post David referenced is this one that I wrote in August 2013. A lot has happened since then, especially concerning wearable technology and the relentless progress of mobile.

Hope you can make it to Yammer’s HQ in London on June 4. Sign up for your free ticket! And a 5-min lightning talk if you’re up for it.

A hangout on the future of communication

#FutureComms14

In just three weeks’ time, on June 18, FutureComms14 takes place in London.

This one-day conference, organized by MyNewsDesk UK, will firmly ask a big question: “What’s the future of communications?” The line up of speakers will offer some compelling answers to it that will undoubtedly include insights.

You really can’t ask for more from an event. I’ll be there, too, moderating a panel discussion on the technologies of PR and chipping in with a few perspectives as well in the context of that big question.

Yesterday, four of the speakers – Deirdre Breakenridge, Danny Whatmough, Paul Sutton and me, Neville Hobson – got together in a live Google+ Hangout On Air video panel discussion, ably moderated by Adam Cranfield, for a 50-minute conversation that addressed these topics:

  1. What is the future of communications?
  2. Will marketing, PR and social media job roles still be distinct in five years?
  3. Will the results that small agencies can achieve using communications technology make brands question the value for money large agencies offer?
  4. Will organizations rely more on in-house communicators to produce their content than external agencies?

It was a terrific discussion that attracted a number of live viewers and quite a few more to the recording on YouTube. And here’s the recording:

A taster of the what you can expect on June 18.

Check the hashtag #FutureComms14 for ongoing conversation. Connect with those on the FutureComms14 Twitter list created by Paul Sutton. And last but not least – book your ticket.

See you in London on June 18!

Making politics interesting again #EP2014

Houses of Parliament, London

If Nigel Farage has achieved one other thing apart from his seismic shifting of the political landscape in the UK following elections for the European Parliament across the European Union on May 22, it’s making politics more interesting again.

And not just in the UK, either.

Unquestionably overshadowing the election for local government councillors that also took place in many constituencies in England and Northern Ireland last week, Farage’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) – firmly to the right-of-centre in political terms – has consistently banged the drum of anti-EU sentiment that is broadly strong in the UK, especially on populist issues such as reducing immigration and its related topic, open borders to any citizen of an EU member state – and closing them.

It’s been touching a chord for many months now, one that translated into votes when it came to the ballot box last Thursday as became readily clear as the election results started to be announced across the EU late on May 25.

UK European election results 2014

In the UK, UKIP out-performed every other party with its share of the vote, and how many MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) they’d be sending to Brussels/Strasbourg.

The big losers are the Liberal Democrats (LD in the chart above), who were just about wiped out in the EU with only one candidate voted in, losing nine others elected in the last European Parliament election in 2009.

So a period of soul-searching begins for the main parties in the UK, less than a year before the general election in May 2015.

“What to do about UKIP?” is the question political experts and pundits alike are currently saying is no doubt on the lips of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband.

If it is, it’s the wrong question.

The right question must be, “How can we re-engage with our citizens that leads them to believe that voting in an election is a compelling act for them?” Here’s the pointer in this map posted by the AFP news agency showing the percentage of non-voters in each EU member state.

The non voters

While the UK is at 64 percent, it gets worse the further east you travel in Europe – over 77 percent of voters in Poland didn’t vote, for example. The figure was 79 percent in Slovenia and 80 percent in the Czech Republic. And a whopping 87 percent in Slovakia. (I wonder what pro-EU Ukrainians think about the EU and their country’s fractures when they see apathy like this.)

Looking at the UK again, here’s ampp3d’s more dramatic perspective on voter apathy.

Did note vote

It seems clear to me what politicians of every flavour need to do – whether in the UK or in any other of the 28 member states of the European Union – and that is to give voters two things:

  1. Reasons why they should care
  2. Reasons why they should vote

Certainly in the UK, it should be a very interesting 335+/- days between now and the forthcoming general election.

  • If you’re wondering what the EU election results mean for communications and public affairs, you can find out and add your own voice in a tweetchat on this topic organized by the CIPR, taking place on June 4 at midday UK time. Follow the hashtag #CIPRCHAT.

[The attractive Houses of Parliament postcard-type image at the top of the page is by Jenny Scott and is used under a Creative Commons license.]

It’s still about connecting people

The Web 2.0 song

A serendipitous moment last evening on Twitter when Charlotte Beckett tweeted “Do you remember that great video explaining Web 2.0?”

I knew immediately what video she was asking about as I’d referenced it recently in a client presentation – it was “the Web 2.0 song” created by Nokia in 2007 when the term “Web 2.0” was at the height of widespread use as an effective method of explaining the rapidly-evolving online landscape of connected services that enabled people to talk and share things in new and interesting ways.

It was a landscape that was nowhere near mainstream. It was still the time of early adopters and experimenters.

How different we are today when everything to be known about the social tools and channels that form a big part of what we now call “social media” seems to be known by everyone (which is not the same thing as knowing how to be really effective in using them).

So for old times’ sake, here is that video from Nokia, “the Web 2.0 song“:


La chanson du web 2.0 par NOKIA by buzzynote

Tools and channels may change but one thing is constant – it’s still about connecting people.