Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Wizard of Oz stays behind the News Corp curtain

So the big day came and went, and the highlight of the Murdoch's appearance in front of MPs was "Tiger Woman" Wendi Deng who sprang to her husband's defence in the face of a foam pie assault. I hear that the clip of her one-person rapid reaction force has now been watched tens of millions of times in China.

Alas, that will be the memory of the day for many. We learned little of what really went on in News Corp, or News International, which are apparently run by a father and son team, one of whom is confused and amnesiac, the other puzzled and unaware. It was hard to reconcile their demeanour with the power that both still wield in the tangled worlds of media and politics.

So was it all an act? To a large degree, I suspect it was. Not only was Wendi Deng sitting behind her husband and stepson, but a slight, balding man called Joe Klein was also keeping a close eye on things. He was taken on only last year by the Murdochs, and is a serious political and legal player. He was the man behind Bill Clinton during the Whitewater scandal and a few other local difficulties. He joined News Corp after a stint running the New York School system, after getting a call from Mayor Bloomberg. When there's a tricky problem, Mr Klein is the man that big-hitters turn to for advice.

Naturally, both James and Rupert Murdoch have received media coaching in advance of their appearance. The signs were clear, from the way both responded to questions. They had been given a few key phrases and gestures to use, not to mention advice on body language. The initial exchanges, where Rupert Murdoch interrupted his son to say "This is the most humble day of my life", were choreographed. That phrase was designed to become a headline, and did, all around the world. (Of course, it later became "Humble Pie")

Overall, little light was shed on the goings-on anywhere in the huge media empire. The Wizard of Oz has not come out from behind the curtain.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Four Great Pretenders of social media

In my opinion, there are several types of pretender on social networks. Here's how I describe them:

1) The pretend expert These are the people who publish reviews of new products and services, sometimes before launch. They haven't seen or tried the new stuff themselves, but have simply read all the reports from people who have, and pulled together a summary which makes them look as though they are "in the know".

2) The pretend writer These are real crooks, in my opinion. They reproduce articles and blog posts written by others, with no accreditation, leading people to believe they wrote them. Sometimes they even claim the writing credit. Sad indeed.

3) The pretend journalist This is a type I'm seeing more often. they pick up online news alerts or listen to broadcast sources, and then announce the "news" to their friends and followers. They overlook the fact that if people are interested in a story, they will have the same alerts set up. If there was an attempt to comment on the news, I could see the point of it, but simply sending out "news" seems utterly pointless. News sites do it better and faster.

4) The pretend friend of celebs They continually "chat" to celebrities on Twitter and Facebook as though they are pals. 99% of it is one-way traffic. Occasionally, they will receive a response, which they will talk about for weeks.

What do all these fakes have in common? I suspect it's a desire for status - to be seen as an important member of their online community. Alas, I think it's all wasted effort. It would be far better if they posted their own views and experiences, offered their unique perspective, and engaged in debate. It would provide some genuine credibility, not to mention some much-needed self-respect.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Seven Habits of Purple Cows who moved my Fish

I was chatting to a fellow speaker a while ago over a few single malts, and the topic of "business gurus" came up. Having been on the international speaking circuit for many years, we've seen them all, and know many of them personally - Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Lundin, Spencer Johnson, etc...

So we got to thinking - what if we were to write a best-selling business book? What's the secret? We came up with a set of rules, which I'm happy to share with you. By the way, we mean no offence to our best-selling chums. This is merely a piece of flim-flammery.

1) A heart-warming, simple parable. It doesn't have to be true, though it helps if it is. It should contain a simple lesson that can be absorbed in under a minute.

2) No pictures. They just confuse people, and attract copyright fees. They also don't work on the Kindle, your potentially largest source of revenue.

3) Keep it short. Large print, short sentences and chapters no more than five pages long. No point flogging yourself to death writing it.

4) Get a ghostwriter. Even a short book takes time to write, There are plenty of unemployed scribes who will produce the necessary words, and then keep quiet about their involvement, for only a moderate sum.

5) Have a colourful cover. You want it to stand out on a webpage and in a bookshop. Most people won't read it anyway. Make it easy to find and buy.

6) Make it repeatable. Set up something that can be turned into a series. We're looking at a lifetime of income here.

7) Become a "character". Shave your head, wear something odd, develop a quirky way of speaking. People will think you're worth talking to.

There you have it. Frankly, we decided we still couldn't be bothered to write the book. Maybe you will.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Ed Milliband - a media failure? Not on this evidence

There's been a lot of social media chatter about his BBC interview, where Ed Milliband gives almost exactly the same response to a series of questions. On the face of it, he appears to have lost the plot. But it isn't what it appears to be.

I'm in no doubt that Ed Milliband believed, and may even have been told, that this was an exercise to capture a sound bite. It's a common technique these days, where short clips from talking heads are used to compile a news package. It's an essential technique that I teach to my media clients. It has no resemblance to an as-live discussion, and is designed to ensure that the best possible clip is used.

Here's the evidence:

1) The interviewer is never in shot. There are no "noddies" or over-the-shoulder shots, which would have been edited in to a normal discussion.

2) The interviewer is not identified, and I don't recognise the voice. This suggests that a junior reporter was sent to capture a sound bite, and that his questions were not intended to be broadcast.

3) The questions are asked in a laconic, or even lazy style, suggesting that they were not meant to be heard.

4) Ed Milliband may not be the sharpest knife, even in the Milliband drawer, but he's bright enough to know how to vary his answers in a discussion.

5) Mr Milliband is delivering "complete" answers, by including the point of the question. For me, this is the key evidence, since that is exactly how to deliver a stand-alone sound bite.

In short, the interview has been presented as something it was not. It was probably an editorial mistake. I hope that's all.

Poor Ed Milliband has been castigated for something which is not what it has been portrayed as. Like him or not, it's simply unfair.