Pilot Light

Inferno is a PR consultancy. This is not. This is Inferno’s blog.

Archive for June 2007

Wake up and smell the Latte

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Worth considering…

Once again those splendid TWL chaps provide another insightful post on the nature of the fabulous job that is the public relations executive. I am sure that many of us can share the pain as outlined here.

Reading it reminded me of a little slide deck my lovely fiancé sent me a couple of weeks ago – I’m sure it’s done the rounds but it made me chuckle and in light of the TWLs post I thought I should share it with you

I was struck by a large omission though – there is no mention of the MD/CEO’s position in this veritable tide of crap. I quickly concluded that this is because he/she actually lives in a whole world of sh*t, a kind of parallel sh*t universe made up of spreadsheets and the like (cue: playing of really, really small violins please).

I would like to point out that this is all very much tongue in cheek and I don’t actually mean much of the above. Personally, I think we do a bit too much navel gazing and like to beat ourselves up about agency life, I know I do. At the end of the day, its the career we have chosen and, even nearer the end of the day, I think its a bloody good career that is full of variety, entertainment and interest.

Yes it is really hard work and incredibly demanding. But no one ever pretended to me that it was any different. We need to keep things in perspective – my dad is a postie and he packed (quite literally, special delivery!) me off to University to give me a chance to have an interesting life and a successful career. I like to *think* that PR is exactly that… perhaps I’m wrong?



Written by pilotlight

27/06/2007 at 2:53 pm

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The cartoon me?

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Who we all secretly want to be…

Like a lot of men, there is nothing I like better than picking up a copy of my wife’s Heat/Closer/OK/ Celebrity Cellulite magazine, pouring scorn on it for its vacuous and regressive agenda and then reading it from cover to cover. “Its for work darling, gotta keep abreast of all media…”

There is though something in those and other celebrity-packed magazines that really does grate as badly as, well, a broken grater. Its the use of the term “PR” as a job description. As in, “Daisy, PR to stars including Jade Goody’s new bulldog Mahatma, was papped at Cricklewood’s new hotspot The Nun and Garter.”

So, that makes me “a PR”. Is that “a public relations”? Could it be “a press release”? Could it be some journalistic insult acronym that I am too sheltered to understand? Of course not, its just nonsense. Its like calling a binman “a waste disposal”, or a doctor “a medicine”. Doctors of course have an entirely different understanding of the term PR. Relevant in this case perhaps.


Written by pilotlight

22/06/2007 at 1:50 pm

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Roving for voters on Ebay

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A keen student of business
Karl Rove (Dubya’s election strategy wunderkind) has been stirring it up with some interesting comments about the impact of the Internet and technology in general on people’s political leanings. No, I hadn’t thought about it that way either. In an interview with The New Yorker Rove made the point that the Internet was unleashing a new wave of entrepreneurially-minded people whose natural home would be on the centre-right.

“Rove thinks that more voters now are being influenced by technology and religion. “There are two or three societal trends that are driving us in an increasingly deep center-right posture,” he said. “One of them is the power of the computer chip. Do you know how many people’s principal source of income is eBay? Seven hundred thousand.” He went on, “So the power of the computer has made it possible for people to gain greater control over their lives. It’s given people a greater chance to run their own business, become a sole proprietor or an entrepreneur. As a result, it has made us more market-oriented, and that equals making you more center-right in your politics.”

Now, as a seemingly deeply Machiavellian character, it’s not beyond Rove to be flying a kite here rather than making a serious point – and Charles Cooper on CNET certainly thinks there are holes in the argument. I would certainly argue that one’s political stance is much more based on a mosaic of issues and experiences, rather than such a single issue. And how many of these people were on the centre-right anyway? And is this more a reflection on the specifics of US society than a global trend? However, Mr Rove has managed to get George Bush elected twice – quite a feat – so perhaps he does know what he is talking about.

So, what if it is true? Should we, in the PR world, be thinking of this new group of extremely internet-aware consumers as being unified through their political stance even if they are not unified in any other way (other than their Internet usage). Would it even be useful to do so? I’m not sure that politically-infused or politically-aware messaging is such a smart idea for brands that are nothing to do with politics. Its a bit like that old-fashioned advice not to discuss religion or politics at the dinner table. You are likely to offend as many people as you attract. But from the perspective of political parties it may make more sense.

In the UK, both main political parties have been experimenting with their Internet presence and arguably David Cameron’s Conservatives have made most progress via the Web Cameron site. But they are both still in “send” mode – using the Internet as a new delivery mechanism for carefully crafted messages – rather than “receive” mode where they can engage in conversations with their electorate.

I wonder though, maybe with our industry’s limitless love for surveys, the next one should measure the political affiliations of Ebay super-users?


Written by pilotlight

14/06/2007 at 12:39 pm

Posted in PR, Web 2.0

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Economics lesson at Paddington Station. With coffee.

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Famous with the L.A. crowd.

Herd behaviour is not unknown in either consumers or markets and can readily be observed in the wild. Many times I have seen a multiperson queue in front of one cash machine of several, before getting to the end and realising that the other machines were perfectly operable. This is before one gets to the fact that people ahead of me in most queues seem to be either under some form of heavy sedation or have a very obscure, exacting and potentially mental purpose. Like the woman at the Post Office who needed a collection of differently priced stamps in different designs according to a massive list, which was checked again and again after every purchase while I wondered if the definitions of self defence had been tested to the full in Law.

So needing a caffeine dose with minutes to spare before catching another train at Paddington I went into the charming retail area to swim in the unimaginative mainstream of Starbucks. Bad idea – the queue looked Soviet in its sweating intensity. A quick glace at ‘Café’ Whatever revealed the same…Getting one on the train would be shameful and expensive so? Aha. Krispy Kreme. They have a real espresso machine and the place has less people in it than a dark corner in a horror movie. Got a marginally cheaper and perhaps better coffee in two minutes flat but why was I alone?

Functioning markets depend on information, but consumers get trapped by habit and peer pressure. Why had the manager not stuck up a simple sign saying something like ‘Coffee without a queue!’, ‘Famous for our COFFEE, not just the donuts…’, ‘Don’t miss the train, get a coffee from us instead!’ etc etc. Maybe they were not allowed to do so, which is sad. But it made me think – that is the real contribution of marketing to making things work – giving consumers information so that they can exercise choice better. It’s a mouthful but could come in handy the next time someone comes out with the tired, Bill Hicks (who I still love) inspired ‘If you are in marcomms, kill yourself as you destroy everything good in the world you liars, spinners, blah blah blah.’

We certainly don’t always get it right (and sometimes get it very very wrong), but without marketing, markets just don’t work and everyone suffers. Like the herd of independent minds sweating in a Starbucks queue before trying to jump a train like some stuntman in a Western.


Written by pilotlight

12/06/2007 at 3:14 pm

Posted in marketing, PR

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Fireflies before the storm 2.0

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Field Guide

I’ve been working on Gordon Frazer’s (the MD of Microsoft UK) speech for the forthcoming CBI Summit taking place in London on 12th June. The whole summit this year is looking at the issue of Talent and the UK economy.

It’s a fascinating topic area and of course incredibly relevant for all businesses (how many PR agencies out there are not involved in their own ‘battle for talent’ right now? I know we are!).

The CBI has asked Microsoft to talk about the impact of technology on new talent, on the next generation workforce or ‘Generation Y’ as it has been imaginatively dubbed(!), and provide some advice and insight to assembled UK business leaders around how technology must be used to shape the business leaders of tomorrow. And to also help companies attract and retain the very best talent from this new pool.

Given that Microsoft has a young and dynamic workforce already, and is (one would hope) a little way ahead of most companies in the use of new technologies, I decided it would be a good idea to talk to a couple of Microsoft UK’s most prominent bloggers about the impact of their blogs – not just on the way they use them for their jobs (although this is fascinating in itself), but also how they make them feel and the impact this has on their loyalty to their employer.

I spoke to Steve Clayton and Darren Strange, as these guys have two of the most well known and linked-to Microsoft UK blogs, and because Inferno has been lucky enough to work with them both closely around their blogging in the past.

Both have very kindly given us permission to reproduce the interviews and I really think they give a great insight into why and how business people blog on a number of levels – from how it can help them in their jobs, how it brings a new layer of interest and passion for their work, to how it makes them feel about the company they work for.

I also think what Steve and Darren are kind of pioneering here is how potentially blogging will really begin to impact all businesses over time – just as the internet 1.0 snuck in and overtook the business world only after the hype had died down and the bubble burst, so I think blogging has the potential to really take business into new realms – and in this sense, to borrow an old quote from Lou Gerstner, Darren and Steve may well be the new “fireflies before the storm”…

Steve Clayton, ‘Geek in Disguise’

Steve is the CTO of Microsoft UK’s Partner Group.

How do you ‘see’ your blog? I mean, what does it mean to you and what does it allow you to do?

I see my blog as my way of talking to many more customers and partners than I ever could face to face.

Perhaps more though, I see my blog as a way of helping to change opinions about Microsoft. I try to talk as openly and transparently as possible and this pays dividends as I can see people’s opinion slowly changing. I try to talk on my blog as if I were chatting to a friend at the pub in an informal style that encourages conversation.

It took a lot of patience to build my readership but now I’ve made a number of great contacts through my blog. The most fun element has been the “Microsoft: Change the World or Go Home” thread I kicked off with Hugh MacLeod. It’s had some great coverage and was recently called “Moonshine Marketing” by Microsoft Watch and “visionary” by David Brain of Edelman. Very rewarding!

That is pretty cool. Obviously though, you are a Microsoft employee. What does blogging bring to the job you do?

It allows me to extend my reach incredibly – instead of talking to a few hundred partners a year through face to face meetings I can talk to thousands and engage in a conversation with them.

It allows me to share information faster than usual methods and is better than email as people can choose to subscribe to my blog and get updates as and when I post. It’s their choice which people enjoy rather than a deluge of email or newsletters.

Anything you can tell us about the number of visits and comments you receive?

I receive about 800 page views per day and probably around 10 comments per day. Last month saw 450k page views and 17k visitors though the stats are less important than the conversations!

We hear a lot about Microsoft having a very open and trusting blog policy. Is this true and how does it make you feel as a Microsoft employee?

My blog takes up a fair bit of time to write posts and respond to comments but I think it’s worth it. Here is one piece of feedback I got that proves it to me

“Steve, I am now beginning to enjoy Microsoft. Previously I, and I suspect millions of others, perceived MS as a leviathan without a heart. No pulse or warmth. Not a human in sight except Bill in front of a cold global software assembly plant staffed by humanoids. By blogging, you and your colleagues have opened up MS to reveal that the innards are indeed made up of warm, people with hearts, with families, have smiles and wow, you do have senses of humour! This is incredible. Who’d have thought that a corporation like MS was human after all!? We do now. All because you are engaging with us at our level and this is a conversation I relate to and like very much. I hope many more do too.”

I can’t imagine not having my blog now. It’s fantastic that a company of our size allows its employees to speak openly and freely and engage with customers and partners directly. It’s doing a HUGE amount of good for the company and I personally feel quite proud to be able to have the potential for such impact.

Microsoft could easily have said “employees don’t blog” like Apple has but it’s one of the best decisions we have ever made. We’re the most passionate people about our company so we’re the best people to be out there talking about it. Darren and I have both said recently that if we couldn’t blog, we’d seriously consider whether we’d continue working here. It’s THAT important.

Thanks for that Steve

Darren Strange, ‘Office Rocker’

Darren is UK product manager for the 2007 Microsoft Office System.

How do you ‘see’ your blog? I mean, what does it mean to you and what does it allow you to do?

I see it as a way to have an ongoing conversation with my customers. It is a channel for me to express how I think about the issues I work on, to influence and be influenced in a public forum. I also see myself engaging in the process to change public perception of our company by being an authentic voice people can relate to.

Well of course, you are a Microsoft employee – how does it help you in your job?

I use the blog to put different perspectives out there and hopefully to seed discussions and press engagement. I also use it to correct inaccurate articles in the media or to present a more balanced view of the issues.

The blog has been vital in ensuring I keep seeing my product from the perspective of my customers. It stops me getting institutionalised and provides a constant ‘pulse’ of customer opinion which keeps me honest. I’ve also made new friendships and important customer contacts via the blog.

Anything you can tell us about the number of visits and comments you receive?

I don’t really track this anymore but I just looked it up and its about 230,000 hits a month. I’m 172nd in Microsoft [worldwide] in April (which is in the top 3%). I sometimes get a lot of comments and sometimes none. I look for dialogue though so comments is a good measure as is inbound links from other blogs. Technorati track this and my rating oscillates about 50,000 but was as low as 15,000 during launch [of Microsoft Office 2007].

How does having a blog make you feel? Both on a personal level and as a Microsoft employee?

Well it is a lot of work to blog but it has now become a way of life. I think blogging makes me more observant and more thoughtful. It makes me think harder about issues and means I have stronger and more interesting perspectives on life. A downside is that you can ‘disintermediate’ if you start seeing everything that happens to you as a potential blog post which is why I don’t blog on holiday however on the whole I find it means I live more in the moment and life doesn’t pass me by.

I like the feeling that I can talk back to my critics and it has trained me to always listen and always find the good in the other point of view. I think this has made me a better spokesperson and maybe even a better person.

I am proud of Microsoft and I feel that through the blog I’m able to do my bit to change how people think about us.

Thanks Darren

Written by pilotlight

07/06/2007 at 1:12 pm

Posted in Blogging, PR, Tech

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It’s Rainier-ing staff, hallelujah!

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 Lots of froth in the bottle.

Well, I appear to have got myself into a little hot water with Stephen Waddington, one of the MDs of Rainier PR, around the always emotive subject of recruitment. You can see what he had to say about me here. 

Now, I’m not entirely sure how I’ve got myself into an ‘embarrassing’ situation here. Yes, I did, after discussions with contacts and our management team, email some talented PR executives at a handful of agencies to ask them if they were interested in meeting for a chat about their careers and their futures. I mean, Inferno is growing a lot and because of the accounts we hold and our culture, we need to get the best people in to do the job and continue that success.  

Did I show questionable ‘professionalism’ by doing this directly, rather than, lets say, hiding behind a headhunter organisation to do exactly the same thing? If so, then I am hugely apologetic and shall return to more professional ‘cloak and dagger’ activities forthwith! And I wonder how many other senior PR execs out there can say they have never done something similar, or at the very least thought about it (and then bottled it)?  

It’s actually a very interesting question Stephen has raised, at least in my own head. PR is a highly personal business, and is based on individuals, but have I crossed some unwritten line by becoming directly and personally involved in our search for great people?  Or did I show a lack of professionalism simply because I got the email address wrong? I did make a schoolboy error by sending it to .com, not .co.uk, I hold my hand up on that count. But I am pretty sure the mail went to the right person, given that before Stephen’s blog appeared, I received an email from the other MD of Rainier, Steve Earl saying that it had been forwarded to him by the person it was meant for.  How strange. Perhaps it was a bit of both…  

I must finally, though, thank Stephen for publishing my contact details on his excellent and well-read blog – yes, you heard it there first – Inferno is looking for some great people to come join the fold and work on some really well-known technology and B2B brands. You’ll need to be a bit ballsy, have a great sense of humour and be prepared to do things a bit differently.  


Written by pilotlight

05/06/2007 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Human Resources, PR

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Welcome to Bloggage?

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So we’ve started a blog then. I can just hear TWL now: “oh Inferno has at last managed to recognise the existence of digital media developments and got round to starting a blog… not bad for a tech agency… etc etc blah bloody sarcasm blah”. Well, I have two things to say to them – 1. shut up or I will ‘out’ you because I have spent my entire ‘digital media experience’ to date hunting you down and now have a suitable bank of hard evidence (and some that I have made up), and 2. we, perhaps, didn’t feel the need to contribute yet another PR agency blog in a set time period into the blogosphere. Hey, perhaps we didn’t feel the pressure to conform and spent our energies on helping and supporting our clients in their initial forays into the blogosphere, rather than spending our idle hours blogging about… well about whatever!   This does raise an interesting point though – can you provide consultancy to your clients around blogging and other forms of digital media if you don’t actively participate yourself? My own view (perhaps unsurprisingly given the above!) is that yes you can. I mean, I’ve been giving media relations consultancy for over a decade and I don’t think I’m too bad at it – but I’ve never worked at a newspaper or edited a magazine. Would I have been a better media relations consultant if I had? Or would I, like quite a few journalists who have ‘crossed to the dark side’, hated every minute of it and left PR quite quickly?? Also, how many agencies have SecondLife versions? Do you HAVE to have a SecondLife virtual version of your agency to be able to advise on what a clients engagement or approach to this medium is? Do you have to have sent your agency’s office outing or party to YouTube for your clients to respect your consultancy on video viral PR?  Hey perhaps you do… unless you’re our clients who seem to have done quite well out of our digital media consultancy without Inferno having a blog of its own… go figure.


Written by pilotlight

05/06/2007 at 10:03 am

Posted in PR

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