Monday, December 21, 2009

Rage against the wee Geordie

So Simon Cowell has tasted unusual defeat, and Joe McElderry's rendering of "The Climb" has faltered at the summit of the charts. A Facebook campaign, organised by couple who were fed up with the annual X Factor Christmas number one, has installed Rage against the Machine there instead. Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it appears. Rage against the Machine are signed to Sony BMG, just like wee Geordie Joe, so guess who makes a pile either way? (A Mr S Cowell of London and Los Angeles, if you're wondering).

So is this finally the rise of people power against the big corporations? In a way, I think maybe it is. One thing is for certain, this success will tempt a lot more people to try the same sort of thing, no doubt with varying degrees of success. I wouldn't mind betting that even now a monocled music mogul is in a bunker somewhere, stroking a white Persian cat and plotting a "netroots" campaign for world domination by an "indie" singer-songwiter. (Actually it's already happened several times)

Simon Cowell, after initially calling that campaign "stupid" has now phoned the organisers to congratulate them. Smart man. What price Rage against the Machine guesting on the next series of X Factor?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Best ways to reach customers in 2010

Here's the latest in a series of video predictions from five experts (including your humble scribe). Thanks to my good friends at Your Business Channel and Marketing Donut.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Tiger takes his eye off the ball

So the Eye of the Tiger is not what it used to be, or maybe his PR team have taken a week off. The handling of the "Drivergate" affair, when the world's top golfer went badly into the rough, has been atrocious in PR terms.

Whatever the reason for Tiger Woods' early morning drive into the trees (via a hydrant), the wall of silence that he and his advisors have put up is doing him immense harm. In the absence of information, a news vacuum appears, and we know what happens to a vacuum - something comes in to fill it. So speculation, rumour and innuendo become the story, rather than Tiger coming out with his hands up.

The less he says, the longer the story will run, as more and more "experts" offer their analysis of the events in Orlando. Not only that, his image, once pristine, is in danger of becoming seriously tarnished. He's already the golfer with the most fines for on-course swearing this year, and he's doing his reputation no favours right now.

The first rule of managing a crisis is to take control, and make yourself the main source of information. However, bad things are, they will be resolved, and even forgotten, quickest if you deliver the facts, and make any apologies that are necessary. The truth will always emerge eventually, so you might as well deliver it yourself, and as early as possible. It's never a crisis that does the real damage, it's any attempt to cover it up (ask any politician who has lied about a scandal).

It's time for Tiger to call the media and tell them exactly what happened. Unless and until he does, his reputation will suffer more and more damage.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dubai - the benefit of hindsight

Now that the Dubai "miracle" is looking somewhat tarnished, it's interesting to see how many people "knew it was going to happen". Alas, none of these included the bankers, the builders and the expats who profited from the largesse of the tiny Emirate.

From 2004 to 2008, I visited Dubai around 30 times, to deliver training and consultancy to a range of companies, including Dubai Holdings, Dubai World and several large hotels. I was involved in working with senior managers for the media launch of DIFX, the Dubai Stock Exchange. Throughout that period, I was constantly astonished by the rate of growth and the sheer ambition of Dubai. When I was back in the UK, I often talked about it as "a Hollywood back-lot" - all front and no substance. But like many others, I took advantage of the plentiful opportunities that arose there. Interestingly, my day rates never matched what I charge in the UK, but I reasoned that it was an interesting time to be there, and I also had friends and colleagues in the region that I liked doing business with.

Did I see the crash coming? Not exactly. However, I did visit houses on the Palm islands that had cracks in the walls you could put your hand in, since they were built long before the newly-dredged sand had time to settle. I saw Indian labourers housed in stifling, crowded dormitories, working on sites where safety standards were lax, and the accident rate was high. I once saw a man emerge from a crashed Mercedes on the Sheikh Zayed road, throw a handful of cash into the window of the car he had hit, and walk away with a smile. But few people really predicted what's happening there now. Amazing how many seem to be wise after the event.

Just over a year ago, I had enough of the place, and I haven't been back since. On reflection, there was no way that the rate of growth could ever have been sustained. There was even talk of building a half-mile wide strip of buildings all the way either side of the 50km desert highway that linked Dubai to Abu Dhabi. Now it looks as though Abu Dhabi bankers will have to drive that road with cash to save their neighbour.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Do it lke Shaq

One of the greatest examples of bringing the power of social media into the world of PR has been the promotion of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, and their star player, Shaquille O'Neal, during his time there. The person responsible is Phoenix-based PR expert, Amy Martin (known as @digitalroyalty on Twitter). She now helps to manage Shaquille's online presence, using a range of sophisticated measurement tools. Due largely to Amy's efforts, Shaquille has close to two million Twitter followers, and is regularly mentioned in the traditional press as an example of how to use social media well (creating yet more buzz). So how does it all work? I spoke to Amy on several occasions to find out. A crucial factor is the speed and detail of monitoring the response to Tweets and updates on various sites. Amy has refined the functions of measurement software to allow her to see the effect of a single message. She calls it Return on Influence (a new form of ROI), which is distilled down to an index, showing whether the efforts have had a positive or negative impact on the brand, as well as by how much.

Amy has developed a Twitter strategy called Random Act Of Shaqness, which includes : Identifying influential fans and websites; Helping Shaquille create individual Tweets; Capturing events using audio, video and photos; Sending out messages and links to influencers. Every single activity is tracked and measured, up to and including click-throughs to Shaquille's website, and whether a purchase is made online. Amy refers to the whole system as an online ecosystem, in which she can detect hotspots of key influencers or groups of fans, who can be targeted in later efforts. The Phoenix Suns have also benefited as a whole from using social media. They have over 25 employees using Twitter, and each of them chats to fans (and future fans) on a personal level. They were probably the first sports organisation (or possibly the first organisation of any type) to digitally reveal the faces and personalities behind their logo. On their first Twitter night, in January 2009, the Suns were featured on over 300 websites, ESPN TV, and were mentioned thousands of times in Tweets. The exposure gained, relative to the effort put in (inviting fans in to meet the players) was huge. Not only that, but the positive mentions of the brand (analysed by the software mentioned above), soared, culminating in a large article about the event in The New York Times.

Now that's the way to do it...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I'm a Reality Show, get me out of here!

As the latest D-list celebs vie for superiority in the Australian jungle, the sun seems to be setting on our voyeuristic passion for watching people sleep, argue and sleep again. Big Brother has already jumped the shark, and "I'm a Celebrity..." can't be far behind. That's not to say that we don't love seeing people ritually humiliated on camera (the early rounds of X Factor satisfy that craving), but the "Truman Show" 24-hour reality TV seems to have had its day.

In the US, even "The Apprentice" has joined the ranks of shows we used to watch, and recent series of the UK version have demonstrated that if you put a team of combative nitwits together, they will act like - er - combative nitwits.

So what's next? "Me TV" I suspect. It's getting easier and easier to produce good (technical) quality TV shows from domestic video cameras and editing software. There are already digital channels composed of DIY shows (no, not the Nick Knowles variety). Wayne's World may be coming to pass.

I'm even starting to feel a bit nostalgic for "The Family" (remember the Wilkins?). I blame Andy Warhol's 1966 film "Chelsea Girls", actually. Grab a DVD copy and see if it isn't the perfect blueprint for Big Brother and the like. Dear old Andy - he'd have loved "I'm a celebrity...", and might even have appeared in it. Come to think of it, if you put George Hamilton in a blonde spiky wig...

Monday, November 09, 2009

What's in a Press Kit?

I say to new clients, "How long since you updated your press kit?" Their expressions usually give the game away. They don't have press kits. In my opinion, all companies, large or small, should have something they can hand to a reporter which contains most of the information they need to know about you. These days, many press kits are online, though reporters still like to be handed copies at a press briefing (usually including a DVD of all the material as well).

So I thought I'd run through the basic elements which I consider to be essential in any press kit.

* A company backgrounder - products and services, markets, purpose
* A fact sheet - size, turnover, locations, major projects
* Biographies and responsibilities of senior staff
* Current press releases
* Recent articles and press mentions
* Recent advertising campaigns
* High-resolution photos and graphics
* A sheet of contacts, with 24-hour numbers

Do you have all that to hand?

Friday, November 06, 2009

How to deliver a strong speech

Delivering a strong speech depends on a number of things. Here are five elements that I think are very important:

1) Insight. Your audience expects you to be well-informed on your topic. You need to be general enough to get your ideas across, but show that you have an insight that no-one else has come up with.

2) Analogies/Parallels. You need to be able to demonstrate how a current situation relates to one that has gone before. This makes it much easier for your audience to understand.

3) Evidence. It's no good making statements that you can't justify. You need to provide examples to support your argument, rather than to make your argument.

4) Endorsement.
This is like calling an expert witness in a court case. If you can cite (other) acknowledged experts who agree with you, it makes your case much stronger.

5) Humour. This is not (definitely not) joke-telling. Leave that to the stand-up comedians. Your humour should be natural and in context with the speech.

If you can combine all those five elements, your speech will be strong and purposeful. All you need to do then is to deliver it well.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Short and Sweet

I've never heard an audience member complain "The ideas in that speech were way too simple for me - I wish it had been more complicated". However, I've often heard the reverse. There are no prizes for getting long words into your speech. In fact, using strong, simple words is the best way to convey a message.

So you don't have to use long words when you speak. Most of the time, you can make your points well with short words. In fact, big words can get in the way of what you want to say. What is more, when you use short words in your speech, no one will have to look them up to find out what they mean. Short words make us feel good, too. A small word can be as sweet as a ripe pear, or as sharp as plum jam. Small words make us think. In fact, they are the heart and soul of clear thought.

Take a look back at that last paragraph. Did it make sense? Good. How many words had more than one syllable? None of them. See what I mean?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's called "Social Media" for a reason

There's a clue in the name "Social Media" (no, not "media"). You will have much greater success if you tell people your views, get involved in debates, and offer opinions on current topics. Many people fear that if they express an opinion, they might offend someone, and lose a potential customer. The reverse is true. Nobody buys "bland". Your clients and customers want to know how you think, and why you are saying things. Naturally, there will be some people who disagree with you, but there will also be people who love you.

If you try to remain "safe" by simply posting links to news sites, saying "well done", or re-sending other people's opinions, you will struggle to build up your own following. Being seen as boring is only one step from being ignored. OK, you can go too far the other way, and disagree with people just for the sake of it, or express very controversial views. You don't need to go that far.

Simply state your case, back it up with reasons, and see how people respond. You'll find that you become the person that others recommend, and your influence and reputation will grow.

Sometimes you should just give up

"Never give up" is a phrase I hear a lot. It's intended to be encouraging, and spurring you on to your goal.

"You can achieve whatever you can dream" is another phrase, which though well-meant, is in my view potentially even more damaging. For example, I dream of scoring the winning goal for Fulham in the FA Cup Final against Man Utd. It's never going to happen. I dream of walking on Mars. That's not going to happen either. OK, maybe these are ridiculous examples, but I receive a stream of messages from people who have a dream that involves TV or radio, and want me to help them achieve it. The most popular one is "I want to be a Blue Peter presenter". I say that's fine, and ask which elements of the dream most appeal. We then look at a way that those can be achieved, without reaching an unattainable (for all but one or two) objective. My first bit of advice is usually "Find a local hospital radio station and offer to make the tea". In other words, learn the trade, work hard and look for opportunities.

In my role travelling the world as a professional speaker, I have become friends with some remarkable people, who have achieved amazing things, and now earn a good living as speakers. I count W Mitchell (who suffered 65% burns and paralysis ), Alvin Law (who was born without arms) and Nigel Vardy (who climbs volcanoes after losing most of his fingers) as friends who I admire enormously. They all agree on one thing: there are some things they now can't do, but thousands that they can.

My point is that encouraging people to pursue a dream that they can't possibly achieve is unfair. We can all achieve astonishing things, but we can't do the impossible. Sometimes the best approach is to shrug, give up, and find another dream.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why social media needs Simon Cowell

Watching the X Factor tonight, I was struck by a couple of things; Simon Cowell was right on the money with all his comments; the crowd booed whenever he made a critical comment. To my mind, the acts needed to hear his comments, so that they knew what to do to improve. By contrast, the other judges, Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole, found it difficult to say anything other than "you were brilliant".

What's the link to social media? It's to do with feedback. In my opinion, far too many comments about blogs or articles fall into the Minogue/Cole category, telling the author "you are so clever" or "I agree with everything you have said". That's polite, but not helpful to the original poster, or subsequent readers.

Of course, there's no need to be rude, or to resort to personal abuse. Simon never does that. Instead, say why you disagree, and don't be afraid to be critical. That's what good honest debate is about. Though it's nice to get people telling you how great you are, it doesn't help you to improve one bit.

So take a leaf out of Simon Cowell's book. Be direct, be honest, and tell people how they can improve.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jan Moir's 15 minutes of fame

Earlier today, few people knew who Jan Moir was. I did, but then I'm a part-time journalist. However, after her article in The Daily Mail about the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately, Ms Moir has become well known in Warholian style.

As I write this, over 1,000 complaints about her piece have been received by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). It's all down to Twitter and Facebook, both of which have been buzzing with the news. That's close to a record number of complaints, and shows the immense power of social media to shape opinion in an instant.

I've read Ms Moir's piece (I'm not sure that all the complainants have), in which she says that Gately's death struck a blow to the "happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships". She also says "Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this".

Strong words. That's what columnists are paid for. They are obviously causing offence to many people. I don't agree with her either. However, having read the piece a couple of times, I'm not convinced that she's said anything which is actionable.

Time, and the PCC will tell. But it's interesting to see that because of Twitter, Andy Warhol may have been right after all.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Ten people you meet in the Media

Last night, I was sitting in the newsroom at Al Jazeera's studios in Kensington, waiting to go live on the 10 o'clock news to talk about the Evening Standard going free. It occurred to me that although I spend half my life in studios (or so it seems), many people will visit a TV or radio studio much less often. So I thought I'd make a few notes about who does what.

Yes, I know, I ripped-off the title from a best-selling book I've never actually read. That's the journalist in me. Anyway, I thought I'd try to present a summary of ten important media roles that can confuse people, so here goes:

* The editor's decision is final. Go to them if you want something done, or seek redress.
* The leader writer is often anonymous, and seeks to summarise a newspaper's views.
* The specialist correspondent is your friend, so find out their interests and talk to them.
* The staff reporter is a fixture - be nice to them too, and remember their name
* The researcher may be a reporter or editor one day. Never patronise them.
* presenters are not usually experts, but don't underestimate them.
* technicians will help you if you are nice to them
* producers are on the way to becoming editors, and have a lot of power over how you appear
* The floor manager must be obeyed at all times.
* As a last resort, keep in touch with a good lawyer.

So, in summary, my advice is "be nice", whether you're dealing with media folk or not.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Old School" or racist?

Once again, Auntie Beeb has got her knickers in a twist over an alleged "racist" comment, this time on "Strictly Come Dancing". Celebrity hoofer Anton du Beke made a remark to Laila Rouass, his dance partner on the show, during rehearsals. Noticing that she had been a bit heavy-handed with the fake tan (hardly unusual in the world of sequins and mambos), he referred to her as a "looking like a Paki". He has since apologised - and said he was speaking "in jest". The BBC appears to have accepted his apology, despite hundreds of complaints from viewers. A statement said: "The BBC does not condone offensive language in the workplace. Anton Du Beke has apologised unreservedly to Laila Rouass who has accepted his apology."

However, earlier this year, Carol Thatcher was sacked by the BBC for making an off-air remark in the green room, to her colleagues from BBC1's "The One Show". Ms Thatcher apparently referred to a tennis player as "looking like a golliwog", because of their bushy hairstyle. She apologised, but the corporation said it considered any language of a racist nature "wholly unacceptable", and removed her from her presenting position, saying "her position on The One Show is no longer tenable"

OK, so it appears that one racist term can get you sacked, whereas another can be apologised for? Could there be any link with the fact that Ms Thatcher had a minor role in a show, whereas Mr du Beke is a popular character on "Strictly" and also now presents the dire prime-time Saturday night game show "Hole in the Wall"?

It's hard to tell. To make matters more complicated, Bruce Forsyth, presenter of Strictly, appeared on Talk Sport radio playing down the row, and saying the du Beke spoke "in jest". Forsyth has since offered a clarification, saying that racist language is "never acceptable". His showbiz pal, Kenny Lynch, spoke on Radio 5 Live this morning calling the language "Old school" and "not offensive unless it's used in an angry way".

What a mess. Either the BBC has to show consistency, and sack du Beke, or be seen to be condoning a remark which certainly appears racist to me. I expect Mr du Beke will spend this weekend hoping his phone doesn't ring.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

David Cameron's Conference Speech Analysed

And so to the final set-piece party leader's speech before the election. After a 15 minute delay and a video message from Bono (yes, Bono - looking to support a potential winner), David Cameron appeared.

He started in sombre mood, almost like a wartime speech. There was a strong emphasis on war for the first few minutes - praise for Liam Fox, and a "War Cabinet". He thanked his shadow cabinet colleagues, and made a poignant reference to the son he lost.

The speech continued in serious mode, with Cameron talking about the "gravity of the situation". The applause was muted as the sombre tone continued with the tough medicine being administered early.

As for a theme, he used the phrase "big Government" over and over again, in order to attack it (and therefore Labour). He received great applause for a line about "96 per cent tax rates for the poor", and referred t Labour as "arrogant".

There were plenty of mentions of policy, and which shadow cabinet member would take which role. He had some nice sound bites "We must stop treating adults like children and children like adults"

Of all the three leaders' speeches, this one had the most obvious theme, and also the most serious tone. Although the audience were less enthusiastic than at previous Tory conferences, I'd judge this to be a better than average leader's speech.

It wasn't a barnstorming speech, by any means - that's not his style. He stated his disagreement with "Big Government" and his approval of "Family, Community, Country".

He built to a strong finish, but I was left with the impression that the audience in the hall were a bit bemused. Of the three party leaders, I'd give Clegg first place, Cameron second and Brown third in terms of speaking expertise.

But Cameron did enough.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

British Airways introduces "Tall Traveller Tax"

From today, people like me, who are over six feet tall, will have to pay British Airways an extra fifty pounds a flight to sit in emergency exit seats. (OK, so will everyone else, but this charge is discriminatory) Since these are the only seats in economy class that tall people can fit in without suffering great discomfort (and probable increased risk of DVT), this amounts to nothing less than a tax for being tall.

I fly a great deal on business. Sometimes my client will pay for me to fly business class, but this is increasingly rare in these tough times. In the past, I've turned up at check-in and requested a seat with extra leg room, because of my height. Provided I arrive early enough, I'm generally successful. Sometimes check-in staff offer it unasked as I arrive at the counter.

But with BA, that's now all gone, and it will cost me an extra 100 pounds on each return trip. In terms of taxes and levies, that's an outrageous percentage. On short-haul flights I can just about cope with the discomfort, although it's getting worse as the seat pitch is reduced and more seats are squeezed in. On long-haul flights, I will just have to pay up.

So, I'm starting a campaign to have this discrimination outlawed. Tall people will be standing up for their rights (and you will not miss us). BA be warned. The Tall Travellers are not happy.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The art of social notworking

Back in 1994, I was asked to lead a team to create a content-rich Internet Service Provider for the Consumers' Association. The service - Which? Online - was launched in time, within budget on 4th November 1996.

One of the most important aspects of the service was a way for consumers to link up with each other, share consumer tips, and join together to form "buying groups" to buy in bulk (even cars) and negotiate better deals. Somewhat to our surprise, it worked. Looking back on it 13 years later, it's clear we had created a rudimentary social network.

What made it work? People taking action. That's the only thing that ever works, in my opinion.

Alas, far too many people just "get involved" in social networks. They build up huge lists of followers and contacts. They then start promoting their products and services like mad. Then something amazing happens: nothing. That's because they were social notworking.

Trying to sell to people who don't know you, taking before you give, or sitting back thinking abundant thoughts won't work. That's social notworking.

No-one will pay for your expertise unless you demonstrate it. You have to build a reputation before you can sell anything. You have to give more than you expect to receive. You have to offer your own help, thoughts and advice. That's social networking.

So, are you a social networker or a social notworker?

Monday, October 05, 2009

It's behind you! X Factor panto season is under way

The pantomime season has begun early this year. In fact, it's started already, as the X Factor acts vie with each other for places in our hearts (or on our text votes).

All your favourite panto characters are there. Cinderella - a girl who goes from rags to riches (Stacey Solomon), The Ugly Sisters - who argue with everyone, including each other, and can't really sing (John and Edward), The Handsome Prince - who wins the hearts of all the girls (Danyl Johnson), The Dame - who has outrageous hair and costumes (Jamie Archer) etc, etc....

Even the judges get in on the act with Baron Hardup (Simon Cowell), The Wicked Queen (Danii Minogue), Sleeping Beauty (Cheryl Cole) and Peter Pan (Louis Walsh).

It's all good fun, though not exactly a talent contest. Altogether now - "Oh yes it is..."

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Crisis lessons from Letterman

David Letterman exposed a potential blackmailer by admitting, live on his TV, show, that he had been involved in affairs with some female staff.The alleged blackmailer had already been arrested by police, after Letterman went to them and explained the threats against him.

The audience were clearly stunned as he made the announcements, in his trademark laconic style, raising a few laughs on the way. It must have been a tough time for him, and not least for his wife and young family. Did he do the right thing? Under the circumstances, yes. Once you have made a mistake, the best thing to do is to come out with your hands up.

Letterman will no doubt have to repair some relationships, but he's saved his career, in my opinion.

Basic rules for managing a media crisis:
1) Recognise that you have a crisis (the most broken rule)
2) Be seen and heard doing the right things
3) Talk to the media as quickly as possible
4) Focus on your feelings about the situation
5) Explain how it won't happen again
6) Become the main source of information
7) Monitor media coverage, responding to any criticism quickly

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gordon Brown's Conference Speech analysed

I've just left a studio at Sky News, having commented live on Gordon Brown's Conference speech. I'm now sitting in the back of a car on the North Circular Road on the way home, so just setting out my initial reaction.

It was a solid, unspectacular performance - the kind we've come to expect from Gordon. There were three and a half standing ovations, and polite applause throughout. He stumbled over words a few times, showing his nerves, and was not helped by his speech writers, with several tongue-twisting phrases, and a lot of negatives "We won't even think of doing that, we'll do this instead"

The start was very strong, with a huge ovation for the list of Labour achievements. His warm-up act (Sarah Brown yet again) was brilliant - in fact we may have seen the UK's Hillary Clinton.

As the speech went on, it dragged into detail, some of it quite confusing, especially on fiscal policy (note to speakers - don't use the word fiscal in a speech unless you are speaking to economists). There were a few jokes at his own expense, but alas, he can't tell jokes well.

There were one or two decent sound bites "Markets need morals" "Never stop believing", but not much of the speech was memorable. It's 30 minutes since he sat down, and I've forgotten most of it already.

Some of the applause was a bit forced, and he's clearly been told to use gestures more than last year. It looked like he was chopping down a reluctant tree at one point.

There were a few good digs at the opposition in the closing section, but overall, my impression was of a man who wanted to avoid making any mistakes rather than someone with an inspiring vision. Maybe because that's the type of man he is, so perhaps we saw the real Gordon Brown.

Let's see how David Cameron responds next Thursday.

Comedy legend Jim Sweeney honoured

My good pal Neil Mullarkey alerted me to this brilliant tribute to comedy legend Jim Sweeney. If you don't know Jim, you should. He's the "godfather of improv", and peers like Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Eddie Izzard explain why in this video.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Anti-Social Media: 10 Essential Rules

With all the attention paid to Social Media, there's been little focus on its related discipline, anti-social media. Here are a few tips to make sure that you know how to use anti-social media for no gain and scant profit:

1) Promote yourself relentlessly, at all times. Make sure that every message is a selling one, so that your friends and followers understand what you are really about

2) Never offer help. Why give away something that people should pay you for?

3) Re-send messages from experts, to give the impression that you have the same thoughts. Occasionally "forget" to mention their name to reinforce this impression

4) Hide your identity behind a silly name or jumble of letters. You don't want to end up on a spammers list, do you?

5) Try to get as many people to follow you as possible, but ignore them completely. They are just your potential customers, so they have nothing to offer you

6) Cut and paste articles and pretend that you wrote them (or at least hint at it by making it hard to spot the name of the original author)

7) Automate everything so that you never have to be at your computer, There are better things to do than listen to the dull conversations in social networks

8) Constanly promote money-making schemes that you don't use yourself (because they don't work). You can make loads of money selling these as an affiliate

9) Insult and abuse others, to damage their reputations and reduce their chance of getting work.

10) Never miss an opportunity to tell people that they are doing it wrong, and you are doing it right. They will get the message eventually, and give up, leaving you the winner.

There you go. If you follow these rules on a daily basis, your business will change dramatically. You may even end up with an ASMO (Anti-Social Media Order).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'm really sorry about this post....

Actually I'm not. I don't have anything to apologise for, as far as I'm aware. However, there has been a spate of apologies recently, so I thought I'd get in on the act.

In the last week alone, Serena Williams has apologised for her outburst at the US Open Tennis; Kayne West has apologised for wrestling the mike from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music awards; and Manchester City's Emmanuel Adebayor has apologised for running the length of the pitch to celebrate his goal in front of the Arsenal fans. So what has brought on this spate of contrition?

Obviously, all of the above were given a stiff talking-to by their publicists. The best PR policy (other than not making an idiot of yourself in the first place) is to apologise quickly and completely. Of course, a fulsome apology doesn't make things right again. However, the old adage "Least said, soonest mended" does not apply in the world of PR. You need to come out with your hands up, admit your failure, and promise to do better in future. Unfortunately, some celebrities become serial apologisers (check the cuttings for Naomi Campbell).

You can't keep making mistakes and getting away with it by wringing your hands and saying what a fool you've been. But if it all goes wrong, a quick and hertfely apology is the best way to resolve matters.

By the way, I'm really sorry if this article caused any offence. Honestly.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Boiling Frogs, Lighthouses, Bricklayers and Starfish

Everyone likes a good story, especially if it makes a strong point. Some people like good stories so much they tell them over and over again.

However, stories told too many times become tired clichés. There are a number of stories that fall into this category these days, and in my experience on the speaking circuit, the four most over-used are

- The frog in boiling water (illustrating that people don't notice slow change)

- The Lighthouse versus the battleship (even the most powerful have to give way sometimes)

- The three bricklayers (it's all about what you perceive)

- The Starfish ("it made a difference to that one.." - even Obama told this one recently)

Of course, if you hear a story for the first time, it may have a powerful impact. But for the person telling it, they have no idea how many of their audience is familiar with the tale. It's much better to tell your own stories, even to make the same points. Using old stories is just lazy and unoriginal.

So please, tell stories that you were part of, not hackneyed parables from business books.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Derren Brown's Brilliant PR Stunt (and how he did it)

As a PR expert, I take my hat of to Derren Brown. He has pulled off some audacious stunts before, but his use of viral PR on the Internet this week was brilliant. The Lottery predictions were a clever trick, of course (explanation in a moment). The real trick, however, was to promote himself across the world using YouTube and social media. His videos have had millions of viewings this week, added to by the tongue-in-cheek nonsense on his Friday show, when he "revealed" the secret. Of course the "deep maths" was yet another mis-direction to keep the mystery (and the viral PR) going. I don't expect him to win the Lottery tonight.

Oh yes, how did he do it? Simple split-screen technology. Watch the video below. At 5.09, watch the left-hand side of the screen as he says "28". It freezes as the switch is made from a pre-filmed image back to full screen. Around 20 seconds prior to that, the left-hand side of the screen switches from live to pre-recorded, to allow his assistant to replace the balls unseen. Even the camera shake is a mis-direction. There's no need to have a hand-held camera in a studio like that. It's all to do with suggestion, which Brown is a master at.

Nonetheless, it's the PR aspect I admire. Well done to Derren and his team. That's magic!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Go Local

Local newspapers are not as numerous as they used to be, but they are still read by millions of people. Local radio has a more loyal audience than national TV. Local TV is sometimes restricted to news bulletins these days. but they struggle to fill their broadcast time. Many people dismiss local media as a waste of time, but on the contrary, it's very valuable.

There are a number of reasons you may want to appear on local media. Firstly, you may have a product or service that people in your area will buy (duh!). Secondly, a good story that is featured on local media will often find its way onto national media, due to the efforts of a stringer (a reporter who gets paid for each job they do, rather than being employed by a news outlet). Thirdly, it's a good way to hone your media skills.

Whenever you believe you have something news-worthy, look for the local angle. Every story has one, whether it is the number of local people affected by an issue, or a well-known local person (maybe you) who is part of the story. Get to know your local reporters, particularly those who feature stories about your type of business. Offer them help and advice, and be available when they call. You will soon find that you become a trusted source of quotes, and your profile will rise.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Take charge of the room

The sight of empty rows of seats when you are giving a speech is a serious drain on your energy, and a constant distraction. It will also make your audience members think "why didn't everyone else turn up?". The problem is usually caused by enthusiastic organisers who want to ensure that everyone will have a seat, and therefore not only put out far too many chairs, but also provide much too large a room.

That's why you need to arrive early, and ask the organiser how many people are expected. Then count the chairs (yes, do it yourself). If there are obviously too many chairs, request that some are removed. Point out the disadvantages of a half-full room, and the fact that chairs can easily be added at the last minute. If you are able to, it may be possible to switch to a smaller room, or to change the layout from theatre-style to cabaret-style (circular tables with about ten chairs around each). In addition, a few people left standing shows how popular your talk is, which will reflect well on the organiser.

You might also wish to change the layout to remove a central aisle (one thing I always do if I can). Most importantly, you should take charge of the room, so that you and the audience feel comfortable, and have no distractions while you are speaking.

If you can't make any changes, try putting any handout material on the front rows only, and/or have people escorted to their seats at the front. If you end up with a tiny audience, ask them to re-arrange their chairs in a half-circle in front of you. Never, ever make an excuse like "I don't know why so few people turned up". Simply present your speech as though the audience is exactly what you expected.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Be kind to a cliché - leave it alone

Clichés are sensitive creatures, and are best left alone to fend for themselves. Picking them up and putting them into your blogs does them no good at all. Over-use (or in some cases any use) can do them, and your prose, serious harm. Just say no to clichés, particularly the following, which are in grave danger of over-exposure. For the sake of clarity, I have suggested some alternatives.

- It's not rocket science (It's simple)
- Thinking outside the box (Being creative)
- Tastes like chicken (Can't describe the taste)
- It's a no-brainer (It's obvious)
- If you can dream it you can be it (Actually you can't, so this is a lie as well as a cliché)
- A bad day at the office (A bad day)
- It's a marathon, not a sprint (It takes a long time)
- Change is the only constant (More nonsense. Sometimes things stay the same for ages)
- Young and old alike (this adds no meaning at all, so may be dispensed with altogether)

So please be an enlightened blogger and leave the poor clichés alone.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Deliver a story with mileage

The best publicity (from your point of view) comes with a story that keeps going, hour after hour, day after day. Once a story reaches the point where there is nothing new to be said, it dies. The news media talk about stories that still have "mileage" in them, and will keep using them if they still appeal.

So when you put out a statement about an issue, always think several moves ahead, as you would in a game of chess. You will probably be able to predict the response from your competitors. Have a response to that already prepared, so that you can keep the story alive. Better still, challenge someone by name (or by company) to respond in your original statement. That will virtually guarantee extra coverage. For example, a pressure group might accuse a corporation of some serious misbehaviour. There will inevitably be a reply, although "no comment" is also useful to the cause.

In order to give your story as much mileage as you can, make sure that you are always available for a comment. If the story breaks at 10am, give the reporter your phone number and make sure your phone is by your side (yes, even on the bedside table) for at least the next 48 hours. Many stories die because the main players can't, or won't make further comment.

A really big story can be revisited on its anniversary, or when something happens to a company mentioned in the story. Keep an eye out for opportunities and give your story as much mileage as possible.

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's all about.........timing

If you have control over when you release a news story, you need to give it some careful thought. The days have gone when you could hide an embarrassing story under a blanket of news about something else (that tactic is always spotted, and makes the bad news even more prominent). However, you can, and should, consider when to release what you hope is a positive story.

If you are staging a "press event", plan it in the late morning to catch the attention of the early evening news bulletins. If the event has a visual element to it, this is even more important. There's no need to give broadcasters more than a few days' warning, since they work to short timescales. Do make sure that you look ahead to any other events that may clash, and take the assembled hacks somewhere else. For example, it would have been madness to stage a product launch in the City of London at the same time as the G8 meeting was taking place. But guess what? Somebody did. You won't remember who it was, since no press turned up.

If you're aiming for coverage in a monthly magazine, you need to deliver the information to them several months in advance. The Christmas issues are created in the summer, so it's no good pitching a new range of tree decorations in October. Weekly journals are finalised a couple of days before publication, but daily papers, radio and TV can squeeze items in at a few hours notice.

It's all down to planning. If you're too late with your news, it may never appear.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Whose story is it anyway?

The best presenters are often good storytellers. There's nothing that people like better than a good yarn well told, provided it has some relevance to them. Think carefully about how you can use stories to illustrate a point, or demonstrate a technique. If possible, find an image that goes with the story to provide some visual interest.

But there's one thing to beware of. Whose story are you telling? I've heard speakers tell other people's stories as though they were their own. Even worse, I've heard some people tell what are effectively folk tales as though they were involved. For example, on an overseas trip several years ago, I was standing in the wings, listening to the previous speaker. He began a story "On my way here this morning, I passed a building site, and met three bricklayers..." Oh dear. I knew that he was about to tell the story where one says "I'm laying bricks", one says "I'm building a wall" and the third says "I'm building a cathedral". That story is as old as the hills. OK., maybe the audience hadn't heard it before, but for the speaker to present it as "his" is a lie.

It seems to me that it's fine to tell the occasional fable to make a point. Make it clear that it's a story, not your story. And never, ever, tell someone else's personal story and pretend that it happened to you.

You even have to be careful with your own stories sometimes too. I once attended a presentation by a well-known adventurer. He illustrated his talk with pictures of his latest trek though the snowy wastes around the South Pole. As about the thirtieth slide hit the screen, there was a groan from the back of the room, and a voice called out "Not another bloody penguin".

Friday, June 19, 2009

Is it the medium or the message?

Marsahll McLuhan was wrong, in my opinion, when he said "The medium is the message". OK, he may have been right at the time (1967), but he's been quoted so many times since, his phrase is regarded as a truism.

These days, many people (me included at times, to be honest) are focusing on tools like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ecademy, and many others. There are races to get large numbers of friends or followers, or a campaign to get only "quality contacts".

There are many experts, including some of my good friends in here, who are helping people to learn how to use these tools. They're doing a good job too.

But I'm increasingly feeling that there's something missing. Having gazillions of followers, or being linked to global communities of potential customers, is all well and good. However, you need to be able to offer them something they need, in a way that they appreciate.

There seems to be very little focus on the message right now. Knowing how to use the tools is no use unless you have the right message.

Don't get so busy using the tools that you forget what you do.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Gordon Brown - is it just a communication issue?

With one bound he was free. Well, free for a while. Gordon Brown escaped relatively unscathed from his meeting with the Parliamentary Labour Party last night. However, some of the MPs who were at the meeting have emerged to tell the press that "Gordon will be changing his presentation style". Well I never. He's been in politics for most of his life, reached the highest office in the land,and it now appears that his presentation skills don't pass muster. His fellow MPs seem to think that better communication is the answer.

As a professional speaker, I look at speeches with a critical eye. There's no doubt that Gordon Brown is not a great orator. Comparisons are always invidious, but Barack Obama has won justified praise for his speeches and delivery. Unlike many of the great orators of the past, he often uses an autocue, and is still not completely comfortable "off script", but he's head and shoulders above Gordon.

The prime-minister-in-waiting, David Cameron, is a reasonable speaker, and I'd place him somewhere between Brown and Obama. Cameron's famous "no notes" speech to the Conservative Party Conference a couple of years ago was actually a piece of clever TV editing by the local director (every time there was a cutaway to the audience, Cameron consulted his notes). Nonetheless, his style is much better suited to delivering a message than Brown's.

Politics apart, Brown is a poor speaker. But I don't think communication training can save him now.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Susan Boyle - victim or heroine?

Like a third of the UK population, I watched the final of "Britain's Got Talent" on Saturday night. The eventual winners, Diversity, probably came as a bit of a shock to the organisers, as evidenced by Sunday's press conference at the headquarters of Sony Music. Clearly, they were expecting a singer. According to reports on the BBC, Simon Cowell did not appear at the press conference.

The story of Susan Boyle has generated astonishing publicity, showing how social media can now spread fame far and wide in an instant, particularly when combined with a rags-to-riches story. However, instant fame can also disappear instantly. It looks as though Susan is caught up in a media whirlpool that has left her senses reeling. I'm not in the least surprised that she needs to take a few days out of the limelight.

Far be it from this old hack to sniff a PR stunt. However, the headlines on the UK papers today are about Susan Boyle, not Diversity. As I write this, she is top of the trending topics on Twitter. When she emerges from her sojourn in hospital, I suspect her fame will be enhanced. Provided she can cope with the publicity roller-coaster, and is treated sensitively by her PR minders, her story will run and run.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Do you know what you're talking about?

Forgive me for being so blunt, but I have a very simple view of speeches. Imagine two circles on a page. One contains all of your knowledge. The other contains everything that your audience is interested in. If those circles overlap, then you should deliver a speech to that audience, on the topic(s) in the area that overlaps. If the circles don't overlap, you shouldn't even consider delivering a speech.

Of course, you wouldn't be as foolhardy as some speakers I've heard, who have no connection with their audience at all. I'm sure you only speak when you have a topic that is of interest to your listeners. However, problems can arise if you stray out of that overlapping zone, and start talking about things that you don't really understand, in order to please (or rather in an attempt to please) your audience.

From time to time, all speakers can suffer from the "edge effect", where they reach the borders of their expertise, but then stray over the line because the audience seems to like it. In fact, it's being disrespectful, and could lead to disaster, especially in any Q&A session. The best way to avoid the problem is to ask the event organiser to give you contact details for a few likely audience members, and have a chat with them a few weeks beforehand. Then base your speech solely on the overlap of your knowledge and their interests. It works every time.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It's not who you know, it's who they know

Social networking is not just about who you know. It's much more about who they know. My good friend Jan Vermeiren points out in his excellent book "How to Really use Linkedin" that it's your second level contacts who can really help you. When you have a mutual, trusted friend in common, it is often very easy to effect an introduction. And assuming an average of just 200 first-level contacts, your second-level contacts will number 40,000, which is a large pool of potential business partners, employers or clients.

It's the same on Twitter, although the numbers are even larger. For example, I have around 2,500 followers. Assuming an average of 500 followers for each of them, I can reach over a million people in two steps. It's this, in my opinion, that is making Twitter the "collective brain" of the planet. Once, I used to turn to Google if I had a question I couldn't answer. Now I turn to Twitter. In the last week alone, It has helped me find the source of an obscure quote, located a cosy bed and breakfast in Sedona, Arizona, and allowed me to set up an interview with an innovative PR company. All of the responses came back within ten minutes.

It's not who you know, it's who they know (and what they know, too).

Friday, May 08, 2009

A huge PR gaffe - MP's expenses affair gets worse

The Daily Telegraph has been having a field day with its revelations about the minutiae of MPs expenses. Although the revelations are hardly of a scale to prompt resignations, they are embarrassing for the Government. Note that the opposition parties have kept fairly quiet on this issue, since their MPs have no doubt been claiming for similar trivia. Of course, the Telegraph is more interested in Labour-bashing than "outing" the Tories. Maybe the next few days will see things change.

The sensible thing, in PR terms, would be to ride out the storm, point out that nothing illegal happened, mention that all parties have used the same system, and promise to change the rules.

However, sensible behaviour is not a hallmark of politicians at present. Now the matter of how the expenses were leaked has been referred to the Metropolitan Police. A Commons spokesman is on the radio blustering about "serious offences" and "a possible breach of the Official Secrets Act". What idiocy this is. No-one cares how the Telegraph received the details, and no-one is denying their authenticity.

As an example of how to make a PR drama into a crisis, this is a classic. When you're in a hole, you should stop digging.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Is it Spin, or is it Media Mastery?

No-one likes a spin doctor, but everyone admires a good communicator. Is there a difference? Maybe it depends on your point of view. Politicians of all persuasions try to ensure that their audiences, and particularly their supporters, know what they stand for.

So how do politicians ensure that they really do deliver a clear message, and what can we learn from them? Like him or loathe him, George Galloway MP demonstrates communication skills of the highest order. His advice for interviews? “Know exactly what you want to get across in the interview, and don’t be diverted or put off in any way by the questions that you are asked. In a very real sense, it doesn’t really matter what the question is. You have a few moments on the media, and you want to make the most of that opportunity, to get across the message you want to deliver. Now, if you can make it fit the question, it is much better, since the message will be better received and understood, but don’t be sidetracked by an interviewer trying to take you down a siding you don’t want to go down, because then you will lose the opportunity of getting across your unique and important message.”

Jo Swinson, the UK’s youngest MP, adds “When doing an interview, it is important to control your nerves. I always take a deep breath and smile, even on radio. When I appear on ’Any Questions’, I have one-page briefing sheet about the issues, and at the top it says in big letters ‘Slow down and smile’, since I do have a tendency to speak rather quickly. You also need to be authentic. If it’s something that you aren’t passionate about, or don’t even care about, are you the right person to do a media interview? Particularly in politics, but also in business too, if you are passionate about something, people will engage with you and relate to what you say”

So much for those in the front line of politics. But what about those in the background? Political blogger Iain Dale says that a sense of humour comes in handy during tricky interviews. “Often if David Cameron is asked a tough question by John Humphries or Jeremy Paxman he dismisses it with a laugh. The questions can get quite personal, but he doesn’t get upset, he just giggles. Nick Clegg on the other hand, will do the same interview and he’ll start getting tetchy at the tough questions. At home, the listener or viewer will see him start to lose his temper. Whereas Cameron doesn’t let himself get riled.”

So it’s all down to technique. Whether you laugh it off, slow down and smile, or use the question as a prompt to deliver your message, the important thing is to know what you are doing. Very few of us are natural communicators, but learning a few simple strategies can make us sound like one.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Mind Your Language

You may find yourself speaking in a country where you are not too comfortable with the language. If you are at an international conference, then sessions will probably be conducted in English, or simultaneous translation will be provided. Whatever the circumstances, you may wish to include a phrase or two of the local language in order to "please" your audience. If you do, then make sure that you practice and deliver it accurately. US President John F Kennedy, on a visit to Berlin during the cold war, uttered the memorable phrase "Ich bin ein Berliner". In fact, he meant to say "Ich bin Berliner" ("I am a Berliner"), since the former phrase means "I am a doughnut". However, being who he was, he got away with it.

Your audience may not be so forgiving. Talk to a locally- based colleague to find out what would be a useful phrase, and what behaviour is acceptable. I can tell you from experience that having advance knowledge of a culture is a tremendous help when faced with a roomful of foreign dignitaries.

If you use an interpreter, here are a few tips -

* Meet the interpreter in advance
* Find out whether the translation is simultaneous or consecutive
* Avoid idiomatic phrases, such as "right on the money"
* Talk to the audience, not the interpreter
* Speak in short sentences
* Avoid humour

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Twitter pushes the TV buttons

I don't know about you, but I'm a great fan of Twitter. Now that the service has announced plans to be delivered via digital TV, I think it will soon outpace Facebook as the social network de nos jours. I'm not clear exactly how the new service will work, having heard about it in a fragment of a leaked report last night. However, being able to use your remote control to bring up a keyboard on your TV screen is hardly rocket science.

The prospect of being able to tweet about complex plots like "Damages", and have an on-screen discussion with your followers is very enticing. Apparently there are even plans to interact with characters in live "Tweetdramas". I can't wait for the announcement at noon today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Why People don't listen to Podcasts

Hang on, don't I have a successful weekly podcast that's been running for three years? Well, yes and no. "Podcast" is a term that was coined a few years ago to describe audio content placed on the web which could be downloaded onto an mp3 player. Since the Apple iPod was, and probably still is, the dominant brand in the mp3 player market, the audio files became known as "podcasts", because that is what they are called on iTunes.

For some time, I called the audio version of my email newsletter "The Media Coach Podcast". Then I spoke to some friends at a conference in New York. They showed me some research which indicated that the vast majority of Internet users had no idea what a podcast was, or that they could listen to it without downloading it to an iPod. I changed the name of my podcast to "The Media Coach Radio Show", and instantly found that the number or downloads tripled.

By the way, if you don;t know how to create an Internet Radio show, I wrote a guide to help you.

Creating a podcast is easy, and worthwhile, but what you call it is important too.

Monday, March 23, 2009

How to Promise and Deliver

You must promise something to your audience at the start of your speech, and you must deliver it before the end. That's because speeches are not like conversations. When we have a chat with someone, they get the chance to talk every few minutes. Our audiences, however, have the dubious pleasure of having to listen to us for up to forty minutes at a stretch. In order to make it worth their while, we have to give them something valuable.

We may give them new information, a new insight, or the motivation to change their behaviour. We may give them a combination of things. What is important is that when the applause dies down, they feel as though their time has been well spent. Some speakers prefer not to signal their intentions at the start of a speech. That's fine, as long as your message gets through loud and clear. I prefer to tell my audience what to expect, partly to ensure that they enter a state of eager anticipation.

If you promise to show people "three techniques to improve their business", then don't provide two, or even four (because then they will be confused). If you can bear to do it (and you should, if you are a professional), then contact the organiser afterwards to ask "what did people learn from my speech?" If the answer surprises you, then change your first line. If the answer is "nothing", change your whole speech. And if the answer is what you told them they would learn, ask them how you can help them implement it.

Whose copyright is it, anyway?

I'm prompted to write about copyright theft in the Internet following a series of sites publishing my book "The Pocket Media Coach" in digital format, for free download.

The response on Twitter to my experience has been interesting. Some people have been, like me, rather annoyed,and urged me to seek redress. Others have suggested that I focus on the positive aspects, such as wider name recognition and brand awareness. However, it is the third group that has puzzled me.

More than a few people have sent me messages suggesting that all content on the Internet should be free. One even suggested that it was an inevitable, and probably justifiable, outcome for "ripping people off with your digital products in the first place". I see.

So let's consider the position. Firstly, the book was published in traditional form. No digital version was published or marketed. The unknown copyright thieves have either re-typed it or scanned it in. Secondly, it is a piece of original work created by me, and it seems only fair that I should be able to decide whether to give it away or not.

But what about music copyright? Am I hypocritical for digitising my CD and record collection to put on my iPod? I think not. To begin with, I paid for the vinyl or CD in the first place. What's more, the digital version is only for my own use. I'm being consistent, in my view.

What's to be done? Probably nothing. Consider this an extended whinge. I just had to tell someone. I'd be interested in your view though.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Are we human, or are we chancers?

I don't know about you, but I like to have a relationship with a real person, not a machine.

On lots of social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, I see more and more automated messages, whether as replies, or even worse, as automatic Tweets about what's happening on the Internet.

Frankly, I find the whole thing somewhat rude.

So I block the senders, a habit I'm having to indulge in several times a day on Twitter, where some users send up to 30 news-related tweets at exactly the same time, presumably with no knowledge that they are doing it.

You'd think that people who used social media regularly would know better than to take a chance on losing followers Fewer, more personal messages, would be much more effective. Sending hundreds of soulless messages is not raising your profile, it's just silly.

So are you human, or are you a chancer?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Seven ways to ruin a press release

Press releases are vital tools in the PR armoury. Here are seven ways that you could end up firing blanks;

1. Have no obvious angle or hook. Journalists need to have an angle for every story. If your press release doesn't have one in the first few words, it will end up in the bin.

2. Deliver an old story. There must be an element of "news". If the story has been covered before, or happened a long time ago, there won't be any journalistic interest

3. Have a confusing headline. Does your headline pass the "poster test"? Trying to be too clever, with puns or double meanings, can backfire.

4. Cram in too much information. If the story is not obvious, the release is not doing its job.

5. Don't bother with quotes. In order to give real interest to a story, quotes are vital.

6. Avoid any controversy. Don't be boring - would you read a boring article?

7. Give only email contact details. Better make sure you take your computer to bed if you do this.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Can you cut your speech in half?

Those words that strike chill into the heart of a speaker "Sorry, we're running a bit late - can you cut your speech in half?" - should cause you no concern (OK, maybe a little). In a well-run event, you should never have to face this challenge, but believe me, it will happen at some point, so you need to know how to handle it. The first thing is not to panic. Everything will be fine, and your audience will still love you at the end of your speech. Hopefully, you will get the warning in sufficient time to make adjustments.

Here's what you shouldn't do - finish your speech early. There is no point in getting halfway through your prepared presentation and then saying "That's all I have time for. That really would be short-changing your audience. Instead, you need to take a good look at your speech and focus on the essential points. Keep the opening and closing statements, and at least one good story. Everything else is optional.

If you have audience exercises, dump them, unless they are a just a quick vote. Give even more emphasis to your core message. You don't need to apologise for rushing through your speech, since you will go at your planned speed through less material. If you have slides, consider not using them. You can easily talk for ten to fifteen minutes without them. Shorten or drop any Q&A session, and make yourself available during the next break.

Treat the "emergency" as an opportunity. If you do it well, the organiser will be extremely grateful to you, and so will your audience. It's a chance to demonstrate that you're a real professional.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Are you one of them, or one of us?

Many clients that I work with have high-paid positions in large organisations. That's why they are asked to appear on TV and radio. An issue they sometimes struggle with is how to relate to the day-to-day problems faced by their customers. If you have people to drive you around, organise your day, and follow your orders, you may be perceived as "one of them". Phrases such as "fat cat" may be used by your opponents to further this perception. If you find yourself categorised as "one of them, not one of us", how can you change people's views?

Some bosses seem to be able to do this effortlessly. Richard Branson represents the Virgin brand often. It's not natural, it's something he's learnt. In fact, he very nervous before any media interviews, but knows that he has to appear. He has nurtured his "common touch", by visiting his businesses regularly, and talking to staff and customers alike. A number of CEOs behave in a similar way, but not nearly enough.

It is essential that you understand, and can relate to, the issues that face your audience. If you don't understand how they feel, you will come across as aloof and distant. Make the point that you are a user of your own services (you are, aren't you?), or that you regularly visit the front line.

Don't pretend to be what you're not. William Hague, great speaker that he is, took a long time to live down the image of wearing a baseball cap to the Notting Hill Carnival, like a "regular guy". What you must do is understand and empathise with your audience. They will love you for it.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

How Google managed a "crisis"

Today, for a period of around 40 minutes, every Google search result was accompanied by the words "This site may harm your computer". The chatter on Twitter was one of the first places where the problem was raised, and the surprising thing was that there was no obvious Google response to the hundreds of Twitter users reporting problems. One sharp-eyed Twitter user, Mark Shaw, spotted the problem and captured this image.

It was also clear from Twitter comments when the problem was fixed. An explanation has now been supplied by Google. So far, so good. But how did Google do in terms of managing the incident? 5 out of 10, I'd say.

Firstly, they failed to respond as quickly as they could have done, and clearly need to have a presence on the Web's early warning system, Twitter.

Secondly, though they fixed the problem quickly, there was no apparent pro-active move to deliver the information to their users (all of us). There is no status link from the Google homepage, for example.

Thirdly, the statement they released is good. They explained the problem in simple terms, took responsibility, and gave an assurance that they'd be more careful in future.

It won;t go down as a case study in crisis media management, and may just become a footnote in web history. But Google need to learn a lesson from this. I hope they do.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

News Never Sleeps

Today, more than at any time in history, news is a 24-hour rolling stream. It never stops. This has both advantages and disadvantages. News media are engaged in constant competition to break stories, provide new angles, and secure the services of the best analysts and pundits to comment on and analyse stories.

If you appear on TV, you may find your remarks repeated on radio, quoted in newspapers, and appearing on websites. In short, there is no hiding place. Exclusivity, if it exists at all, is measured in seconds rather than minutes or hours. Once a story has broken, somewhere, you become fair game for reporters to chase.

How do you cope? Well, luckily, there are some things you can do to relieve the stress. Google Alerts are email updates of the latest mentions of any word or phrase that you specify. They can be sent to you daily, weekly or as they appear. You should definitely have Google alerts set up permanently for your name and your organisation name. If a crisis occurs, set up new alerts that relate to it. Monitor them constantly so that you will be ready to respond.

The other important thing is to have a 24-hour news contact. That doesn't have to be you, but it must be a real person, with a number that is made known through your press office, or (very importantly) on the press area of your website. You do have a press area, don't you? Well, I'll tell you more about setting one up soon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stuff comes in threes

I'm sure that by now you know the speaker's "rule of three". Whenever you are giving a list of items, always try to make it a list of three. It's easy on the ear, and is also easy for both you and the audience to remember. The "speaker's triplet" is also often used to trigger applause in political speeches, since the audience recognises that the list is complete as the third item is spoken.

Why does it work? I don't know, and don't really care (though I'm sure that I will receive some explanations as a result of this post). The thing is, it does work, so you should use it. You can use the same word ("education, education, education"), three different words ("faith, hope and charity"), or three phrases ("Government of the people, by the people, for the people") You can even use three complete sentences ("The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us" - Nelson Mandela)

Even in debates, if you are unsure about how to deliver a list, just give the first two that you can think of. Other listeners, aware that the list cannot be complete, will wait for several seconds before speaking, giving you time to gather your thoughts.

Finally, consider making the last item longer than the others ("life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness").This gives an implicit emphasis on the importance of the last in the list, and allows you to finish with a flourish (or maybe three flourishes)

Monday, January 19, 2009

And I quote...

Quoting the wisdom of others in your speech can help to make a point. However, you must always remember that the audience has come to hear you, not someone else's words. When you quote someone, always attribute the quote to its original source. Make sure too that it is someone your audience will have heard of. It makes no difference to them what John B Snodgrass said if they have no idea who he is. You may help them by qualifying the name, such as "The great philosopher Plato once said...", but you shouldn't really have to.

Quotes can be over-used too, so avoid using familiar ones like "Ask not what your country can do for you..." (especially at the moment, with comparisons between Obama and Kennedy).

Quotes can be direct (where you use the precise words) or indirect, where you paraphrase. It doesn't matter as long as it makes sense, and is in context with the rest your speech.

Don't say "and I quote.." Don't ever use that awful gesture where you draw quotation marks in the air with your fingers. And never, ever, quote yourself. That way lies madness.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Speaking with Clarity

In order to get your message across, you must speak as clearly as possible. Many speakers, particularly when they are nervous, tend to speak more quickly, making them harder to understand. You need to make a real effort to speak more slowly - in fact, it is almost impossible to speak too slowly. The point is to get your message across, not finish as quickly as possible.

Clarity and diction are important too. Some people worry about their accents when they are speaking. These days, this is not a problem, since all types of accent are now commonly heard. However, you do need to be aware of any local dialect words that may confuse a wider audience. A friend of mine, top professional speaker Kenny Harris, tells of the unusual way that certain Scottish folk sometimes respond. "If you ask a Glaswegian a question, and he says 'Aye, right', he means 'No'" says Kenny. "They're probably the only people who can put two positives together to make a negative". All over the world, there are words and phrases that can puzzle your audience. As ever, the best advice is to keep it simple

Using pauses is one of the most effective ways to improve communication. Not only does it help you to gather your thoughts, but it also helps your audience to digest and understand what you have said. It can be very difficult to get used to using pauses, since we all have set speaking patterns. It is well worth the effort, though. You can practice pausing by counting silently to three at the end of each phrase or sentence. The first time you try, it will seem like a lifetime, but persist until you are used to it. You will find it much easier to do if you talk to someone else, as they will be able to give you the feedback that it sounds just fine.

One of the best ways to improve your clarity is to change the pitch of your voice. We have all hear speakers who deliver in a monotone, causing most of their audience to doze off. You should aim at raising and lowering the pitch of your voice occasionally to maintain interest. Overall, try to lower your voice more than raising it, since this is easier on the ear of your listeners. So - just speak slowly and clearly. Simple, Eh?

Monday, January 05, 2009

On the way to the Lectern, not the Podium

OK, you are speaking at a conference, and they have asked you to use a lectern. Being a professional, you defer, saying that you don't want to create a barrier between you and the audience. The organisers respond that the only microphone is on the lectern, there is no radio mike, and all the other speakers are happy to use the set-up. What do you do?

You keep the client happy, that's what. And you remember these tips on the way to the lectern -

* Check the floor between your chair and the lectern for bumps and wires
* Make sure there are no keys jingling in your pocket
* Don't lean on the lectern
* Don't lean towards the microphone - stand tall, and let the technician adjust the sound
* Next time, think about bringing your own radio mike

And by the way, the podium is what you and the lectern are standing on.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Let me make things clear

When you deliver a message, you need to make it as clear as possible. It's impossible to over-simplify it. There's an old set of rules about how to make your communications as clear as possible -

1. Emphasise what is important
2. De-emphasise what is not important
3. Remove what is irrelevant

Easier said than done, perhaps. But it's a good discipline to review your speeches in the light of those rules. You may get a shock the first time you do it. And if you think "everything is important", you'll never get a message across.

Don't forget that the clearest messages are also concise. In other words, as long as necessary, but as short as possible. I hope that's clear.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Tough Interview Questions - and how to deal with them

"Anticipate the worst, and you will always be pleasantly surprised." That's what a journalist told me 30 years ago, when I was learning how to cope with media interviews. I wasn't too sure about the advice at the time, but it turned out to be invaluable. If you prepare yourself for the toughest questions, you will never be stuck for an answer.

Here are a few tough interview questions - and how to cope with them.

1) The incomprehensible question.

Don't even try to untangle it. Simply take from it what you will, and talk about your core message. You can even ignore it completely and talk about your message. Don't ask the interviewer to explain.

2) The leading question

Don't allow the interviewer to take control, and never repeat an accusation in order to deny it. As above, state your case, clearly and concisely. However, if the assumption in the question is damaging, make it absolutely clear that you have spotted their tactic, and demonstrate why their assumption is incorrect.

3) The pause

OK, not strictly a question, but a technique. You have two options. Firstly, you can say nothing, in which case the interviewer will have to fill the space. Alternatively, you can say something like "I have nothing to add on that point. However, another interesting aspect is...."

4) The post-final question

This is the one that comes after the interview appears to be over. It shouldn't worry you, since you should never assume the interview is over until you are well away from the microphones and cameras. Stay sharp until then.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Who won the bragging rights for TV New Year coverage?

A very Happy New Year to you all.

Unlike most years, I was with a family gathering round the TV on the eve of 2009, having spent the afternoon in a dentist's chair. I'm feeling no pain now, thank goodnes.

So we flicked channels to try to find the best TV coverage. BBC1 was having a party on HMS Belfast, BBC2 had the usual Jools Holland Hootenanny (the only time that word is ever seen), ITV was at the 02 with Sir Elton and friends, C4 had Jimmy Carr hosting a quiz, C5 copped out with a compilaton of film clips, and Sky didn't bother.

BBC1 - Well, it was live, so that's a plus. The music was OK, especially Russell Watson, though Aleesha looked out of place, cold, and mimed terribly. The worst part was at 2 minutes to midnight when Matt Baker had to fill airtime with inane comments like "It's all going to go off like a multicoloured pizza".However, the fireworks from the London Eye were stuning, though we could hear them seven seconds earlier bystanding in the street, which was a bit odd.

BBC2 - As usual, Jools and the gang put on a great show, with Duffy, Annie Lenniox, Adele, The Ting Tings, and a particularly brilliant Kelly Jones. There was a very large lady who claimed to be Martha Reeves, and a bizarre five-piece harmonica band from Finland (I'm not making this up) who would have been fine on a Saturday night variety show 40 years ago. It would have all been great, had it not been recorded several weeks ago. All a bit of a sham, really.

ITV - Had the benefit of being live (well, sort of) Dear old Elt was on good form, despite now looking like Miss Piggy with hair borrowed from another muppet. Alas, the comercial breaks were a problem since you don't have them in live concerts. As a result, the digital editors worked overtime, so we saw songs time-shifted back and forth.

C4 - Well, Jimmy Carr is always good for a laugh, and this was probaly the channel of choice for those people who "don't do New Year". Alas, the format was the usual carefully scipted ad-libs and extra canned laughter on the soundtrack.

C5 - If you like clip compilation shows, featuring talking heads who you recognise but couldn't name, then this was decent fare, though it could have been broadcast at any time.

Sky - Nothing need be said.

So who won? No contest, in my view. This is what the Beeb excel at. BBC1 by a mile.

However, next year I'm going out.

Happy 2009.