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?