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Berlusconi and the Media Love Machine [Oct. 13th, 2009|08:31 pm]
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The much maligned Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has set up a special 'Truth Taskforce' to love-bomb the international media, primarily any that write negatives about Italy and specifically any that write bad things about the Italian Prime Minister. Basically it's a crack team of journalists and PR's who will monitor the international media and whenever a report pops up that doesn't present the Motherland or it's great leader in a favourable light they will swoop with a rapid rebuttal of 'truths'.

Silvio bought his own television corporation and football club to make him look great, then botox and a hair transplant now he's using taxpayer cash to spend on PR.

Many Eastern European and South American regimes have for a long time done proactive PR aimed at the UK and US markets to present their leaders as pro-Western, pro-democracy and general good-eggs, but this is the first time I've heard it being done on such a reactive basis or by a Western European government. (Although Italy does have 'form' in this area).

I can't find any mention of how the news managers will handle social media but this serves as a salutary warning of the need to monitor and respond on an international basis.

Note to Berlusconi's team: all the usual rules of good engagement apply - listen to people's concerns, put your point of view across in a way that is constructive and show a willingness to pursue a genuinely two-way dialogue. If that fails, find out the other person's address and deposit a horse's head on their bed. 
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Obama Falls Out With Bloggers (In Pyjamas) [Oct. 12th, 2009|08:25 pm]
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Interesting that the first web 2.0 President seems to be having tiffs with the social media community.






CNBC's Washington correspondent John Harwood reports an anonymous White House source (cough!) re how the Obama White House has handled gay issues as a problem with the "Internet left fringe." Harwood said on air that "one advisor told me today 'those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed, and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.'"  This carries echoes of the Democrat establishment dismissing bloggers that fuelled the Dean campaign as like the aliens in the bar scene in Star Wars!

It could be that the equivalent of Josh and CJ reckon it would be good positioning for Obama to pick a fight with the social media-types at a time when he's losing favour with Middle America. But this isn't an isolated incident and the influential US version of TechCrunch carries an open message from the tech community on how Barack can make good on expectations that people had over using the web to deliver true open government.

From a distance it seems like folks are being a bit impatient about all sorts of things from healthcare to interactive government to world peace. But there is something interesting in how the Obama team is framing it's outreach strategy. Less about gossip-driven bloggers and more about how to reach specific online communities using the forum owner or manager as a gateway.

Apparently they are targeting communities in leading consumer and personal finance sites - Consumerist and Motley Fool. This has echoes of the Labour online strategy in the UK, where the Party has used 'engagement' with voters on specific interests as a key element and Yvette Cooper, whilst in the Treasury, had some successful results in the Moneysupermarket forum.

Problem is it doesn't generate the same media attention as the gossip blogs i.e. the ones that journalists use. 
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Political Blog Sold For....£1.3 million?!? [Sep. 23rd, 2009|02:50 pm]
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There's much discussion about the purchase by Tory Billionaire, Michael Ashcroft, of the blog sites, ConservativeHome and PoliticsHome, for a mind-blowing £1.3 million. Whilst there will be many bedroom-bloggers being re-energised by three year plans to similarly sell out to rich owners the rest of us are just left thinking 'why'?

I was involved in Labourhome when it was sold for a much lesser figure last year and we all thought that the attraction was the trusted brand amongst the grassroots. But a political blog, just like a blog about cars, tech, sports or whatever will find it difficult to maintain trust if it sells out to a corporate money-bags. Labourhome's editor, Alex Hilton, was savvy and chose exactly the right investor, a Labour-supporting media entrepreneur, who then left him firmly in charge. But why would Michael Ashcroft, whose office at Tory HQ is larger than even David Cameron's (reflecting relative importance) be interested in buying a site like ConservativeHome, traditionally a thorn in the side of the leadership? Hmmmm....

Sunder Katawala has an excellent analysis here and he makes the point that not all media moguls are like Robert Maxwell i.e. the good ones understand the usefulness of perceived independence and I'm sure Ashcroft will do all he can to reassure editor, Tim Montgomerie, that all will stay the same on that side. He has to. Unlike newspapers, the internet has low barriers to entry so if the site is no longer truly serving the readers then its much easier for someone to set up an alternative like the 'RealConservativeHome.com'. Any good site needs resources but hey, this is the Tories, there's always someone who can waive cash at them.

If we strip this down Ashcroft is really buying the plumbing that sits behind the ConHome/PolHome operation and that tells us lots about what it takes from a communications POV in the online space. Again, my good friend, Jag Singh, summarises perfectly elsewhere. Firstly, don't forget that ConHome owns the now defunct internet TV channel, 18DoughtyStreet, with it's TV quality production, editing, staff, graphics - basically everything you need to make the kind of attack ads the Americans are famous for and that Tim Montgomerie et al have already dabbled with.

They're also thinking of how they can use this to capture the attention and even coverage of mainstream media. Many bloggers compete for mindshare of the political press and see the willingness of print/broadcast journalists to use their stories, quote them or use them as talking heads as their ROI. The tools available here will be valuable in pumping out pictures that can go straight to news channels and be immediately noticed by journalists scouring for stories.

There is also the data i.e. the email addresses and profiles of Tory grassroots members and activists that is the sovereign currency of modern politics. All Parties measure campaign effectiveness in terms of number of email addresses collected but it's so difficult to pick up much more about your supporters and potential supporters in quantitative or qualitative terms. ConHome has all that thanks to the infrastructure and polling expertise of previous owner and YouGov founder, Stephan Shakespeare.

Labour has caught up online in the past 12 months. Now Ashcroft has raised the stakes. 
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Think Tank Uses New Media To Open Up Politics [Sep. 22nd, 2009|10:04 am]
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I've been working with the ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research), dubbed 'New Labour's favourite think tank' and pioneers of some of the most progressive and forward-thinking policy ideas of recent years. My role is to assist them with the modernising of their communications, so that those cutting-edge discussions reach the right audience in an era when audiences are becoming ever more disperse and influence is becoming much less predictable.

We are midway through a body of work on how politics can be modernised in the context of the fall-out from MPs expenses, but also falling voter turn-out and general public apathy. One element of this is thinking about how Party conferences can be modernised to become more inclusive of Party members. Why should it only be those lucky enough to be given the golden lanyard through 'the ring of steel', mostly lobbyists, who are allowed to take part?
 
The ippr has a high-profile fringe discussion at each of the Party conferences, which all aim to debate key issues facing the Parties. Conference veterans will know that these events traditionally involve 'experts' sat on a panel, with an audience watching and receiving the wisdom. We wanted to make the sessions much more interactive, but, crucially, involve the grassroots of each Party, as it's they who the issues will affect and its they who will be asked to campaign on the doorstep in May, so their insight and opinion is vital and they badly need to be brought into the process.
 
So, we did deals with three of the biggest online communities i.e. one for each Party - Alex Smith (Labourlist),  Mark Pack (Lib Dem Voice) and Michael Rock (Conservative Future). Each agreed to promote and help create an online focus group and answer a set of 10 questions - both closed and open.

As Lib Dems are first, their stuff is the most complete. They trailed the survey, ran a guest post from ippr's co-director, Carey Oppenheim about why the ippr is doing this and then started to post about the results to build momentum. This is the Labourlist set-up and the Conservative Future stuff will follow in a couple of days.

Each survey generates around 200 responses, with in-depth views and information. The events are 'live-tweeted' so that people outside of the event can view what's being said and ask questions via Twitter. This enables the grassroots to almost be our extra panel member at each event, acting as a counter to the views of the experts on the podium.
 
We hope to show political parties how simple new media tools can involve vast swathes of people in discussion and decision making, regardless of whether they are able to afford the time and expense of attending the conference showpiece.

Let me know what you think...


 
 

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Twitter Innovates at Party Conferences [Sep. 22nd, 2009|09:51 am]
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I've been following the quick evolution in how politicians are starting to use Twitter with varying success. It will also be interesting to observe some of the attempts to bring Twitter into use at the upcoming party conferences, which started this week with the Lib Dem jamboree in Bournemouth.

MessageSpace, the online political advertising consultancy fronted by my friend,  the former US Democrat new media consultant, Jag Singh, is launching an innovative new service to target the party conference fringe circuit.
 
FringeList.com will be an online hub for comms and marketing teams to promote their fringe events with listings and a service that lets attendees register online and express their interest for an event. A couple of hours before those events start, they will be sent an SMS/text message reminder.

Using Amazon-style recommendations, FringeList will point users to all other events at the three main party conferences that people may find interesting. It’s also mobile-web friendly, which means users don’t have to flip through pages and pages of events within those conference handbooks to find the events they want to attend. They are also aiming to launch a dedicated iPhone app, and services will be integrated with Facebook and Twitter.

Interestingly MessageSpace will also be sending 'Twitter Ambassadors' to all three conferences, so that where attendees have a schedule clash or for people interested in a particular topic but can't attend conference, they will still be able to stay in touch with, and contribute to, the discussion in real-time. Some of these 'Twitter Ambassadors' are thought to include many of the well known bloggers who are closely associated with each of the main parties.

Organisers are also being offered access to the MessageSpace ad network so their events can advertised across the blogosphere, and on the New Statesman and Spectator magazine websites with a guarantee that adverts will be seen by the thousands of people attending the party conferences. The company operates a unique platform that enables advertisers to target and specify the groups that will ultimately view the ad by reading the IP address of the web user.

There are lots of similar experiments taking place. Fellow PR guy, Simon Redfern of Fishburn Hedges, has done a deal with Channel Four News to host a Twitter fringe, or 'twinge'. Panellists at the events at the Tory and Labour conferences, chaired by Channel 4 News anchor, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, will be able to respond to questions and comments tweeted onto a Twitterwall at the event by Twitter users as well as those posed by the audience in the room.

The event, entitled You tweet if you want to: the web is for opposition, not for governing will take place on the Monday evenings of both conferences. The debate will focus on the interaction of social media on politics, from Gordon Brown on YouTube to Barrack Obama's online campaign, the lessons that can be learnt and the new opportunities it brings.

I'll watch/tweet with interest.

 

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United Supporters Go Social [Sep. 10th, 2009|10:58 am]
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I've just been sent something via LinkedIn about a Man Utd fan who has set up a social networking group for other, presumably business-savvy, fans. (I'm an Evertonian btw and this was passed on by another group).

Reds in Business is the idea of Duncan Drasdo, chief executive of the independent Manchester United Supporters' Trust, who believes that an association with the club could help drive business links.

It has already got a membership of 700 through word of mouth but believes the potential is global and limitless.

RIB promises "90 minutes of business networking, 90 minutes of social and 90 minutes of football", in addition to the appearance of a former player, to try and bring a networking element to match days at Old Trafford.

The first event kicks off on Saturday October 3 before the Reds' Premier League clash with Sunderland and networking guru Will Kintish will be in the chair.

The
website says the group will be built via a social media campaign. I'd like to tell you more about that but there were no details and no way of me interacting with the group organisers via the site, or indeed anything social whatsoever, that would enable me to tell you about the social elements of the campaign, but I guess that comes when you join:) However I did find this LinkedIn group.

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Tories Reach Out To Manchester Bloggeratti [Sep. 9th, 2009|10:13 am]
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The Conservative Party new media team are involved in an interesting initiative to reach out to the Northern bloggeratti to coincide with their annual conference, which this year is in Manchester. Craig Elder, the Party's Head of Online Communities, is identifying social media mavens in the locality and is using Manchester's Social Media Cafe, an informal grouping of social media enthusiasts that meets each month to talk all things web 2.0, to reach out. Interesting that Craig is taking advice on the approach from Lloyd Davis, one of the founders of London's version of the Social Media Cafe.

They tried something similar around their Birmingham conference last year by working with
Screen West Midlands to gather together a group of local bloggers and give them ‘VIP access’. There was supposed to be access to politicians although I think Rishi Saha, Tory head of new media, struggled to get specific shadow ministers.

This is a small but positive move and reflects the approach in the US, where for example the McCain campaign has
daily conference calls with bloggers, including UK Tory bloggers! Loic le Meur also used this on the Sarkozy campaign.


What’s fascinating here is that they have chosen non-political blogs to take part in this. The guests are blogging in the arts, culture and entertainment spheres. The aim is to build a groundswell of support amongst general opinion formers who may be persuaded to engage and debate Tory policies as opposed to rabidly backing or attacking.

It’s a laudable aim but my experience of the Northern blogsphere is that it is as resistant to Tory ideology as, well, the North in general. There is now an active Northern Labour blogging group, the Northern bloc, that is starting to meet, share ideas and work together on projects as well as being plugged in to the new media team at HQ.

The whole thing also needs to be thought through well. The danger with this kind of initiative in isolation is that the bemused bloggers are hurded into a backroom in Manchester for tea and biscuits, have an awkward Q&A with a bemused shadow cabinet member and then having ticked a box forget all about it. I followed up with the Brummie bloggers who attended last year and the feeling was it was a little bit of a damp squib for them DESPITE the best efforts of the Tory new media team.

 

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Social Media Science [Aug. 28th, 2009|05:12 pm]
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If there's one article that advertising and PR practitioners should read it's one that appeared in the FT (of all places) today.

It reinforces a lot of my own thinking in that the turf war currently going between the ad agency, the PR agency, the media buyer, the digital agency for who grabs the burgeoning web spend is becoming meaningless from the client's perspectives. They are buying outcomes. Outcomes that need to embrace a selection of skills but agencies are still trying to grab budget within the confines of their existing structures.

There may be a couple of senior people who 'get' the web and they may have a 'digital team' but ultimately the rank-and-file is still geared up for a commodotised version of the old world. My business is PR and I feel we make a convincing case for being the discipline that understands audience behavior and knows how to build relationships and score on
'earned attention'. But really, as with all agency models, most of the staff have grown up with a commodotisation of part of the discipline. In PR's case its writing press releases and contacting journalists on a press list. That's average media relations, not good public relations.

A client's communications outcomes are being redefined and agencies that genuinely understand their craft can adapt. Agencies that largely have just commodotised a bit of their craft and call that understanding their craft will just keep stretching and stretching until they break.

From my point of view a lot of my new business is coming in in partnership with my close friend who is a web developer. Clients are not paying for 'a website' in the new world either. Between us though we can produce online collateral that people want to use and that makes the client useful amongst the online networks it's interested in i.e. identifying and understanding audiences, building relationships and gaining a proper communications outcome.

It was interesting to see recently that many Madison Avenue ad firms are investing in
number crunchers to sit alongside (or even above) the creatives and the FT piece says “Software engineers are the new rock stars of marketing”. I agree with all that. PR and advertising has to get more scientific and more analytical.

Increasingly the core skills will be language, understanding what turns a customer on/off, how to be social on the web, understanding networks of influence, where your client fits into them, your client's sector/industry issues and understanding emotion as well as the mainstream media, journalist likes/dislikes.

But there's still plenty we can learn from the best of Madison Avenue and the Dream Factory. It will still be about telling stories and selling dreams as we're still aiming at human beings, whether they're clients or consumers, and its emotion that turns them on.

Look at this for a lesson from The Master in turning something functional into something emotional.
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Hannan's Willie Horton Moment [Aug. 26th, 2009|08:02 pm]

I can't work out what Daniel Hannan is up to. He's made a series of outbursts in recent months; starting with his rant at Gordon Brown in Brussels that became a YouTube favourite and lately he's been touring the right wing radio and TV circuit in the US having a go at the NHS.

We can have a discussion about whether his comments were played back to the UK accurately or whether we should be focusing more intently on the faults within the NHS. But anyone would keep their head down after the firestorm that was caused yet Hannan
has been back on the US circuit, being interviewed on reason.tv and deliberately mentioning his admiration for Enoch Powell!

What's his strategy. Is he just being carried along on the hubris of his moment in the sun or is he deliberately trying to smoke out the Notting Hill set that surround the leader's office?

I'm not sure but one thing stands out. He's dangled some red meat to his fan base in the UK Tory party with the mention of Powell. Tories normally do this by mentioning Thatcher but would never risk referencing Powell, such a controversial figure with his
'Rivers of Blood' speech about the dangers of immigration.

Hannan has been clever though in that he's made no mention to race or immigration in the text of what he's said so it's easy to defend in the media. What he's done is appeal to the emotional element of the brain. This is common in US politics, where Hannan is
making friends, and works by using certain words or imagery to imply something that activates the emotional side of the brain. It means to you can send signals, which if they were explicit, may cause an outrage, but by being subtle they make the desired impact. They're often referred to as dog-whistle issues.

A famous example was the Republicans' attack ad used against Democrat presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, in 1988. The ad was about Dukakis' record at giving convicted felons early release. The example that kept being used was a black man called
Willie Horton, who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a young couple while on weekend release.

This is a shocking crime but it was the use of specific words with the regular flashing of Horton, a black man, using unusual and manacing facial expressions that prompted feverish discussions about what the Republicans were trying to imply.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that Daniel Hannan is racist or anti-foreigner but his use of Enoch Powell and all that he represents to elements of the Tory party was very clever.
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Football Club 'Does a Radiohead' [Aug. 26th, 2009|07:30 pm]






I've posted before about how social media is ideal for movements to unite behind a common aim and raise money through small donations.

My eyes were drawn to
FC United, a non-league football club (or soccer team if you're part of the Inde's burgeoning US audience) and their initiative to generate funds for the start of the new season. This was the team that was formed by rank-and-file Manchester United fans who were disgusted by the Glazer family's takeover of the club. I've had my eye on FC United for a year or so as I think its good that the ordinary fan should strike back against the prawn sandwich brigade but also because the movement-building potential is so great using social media.
 
The potential has just been demonstrated by a
Radiohead-style offer to fans, taking the unprecedented step of saying to supporters “pay however much you can afford for your Season Ticket”. Their aim was to raise £125000, which they have by selling more than 1000 tickets. 

Jules Spencer spoke on behalf of the club: “A lot of people said we were brave and ambitious to introduce such a scheme, some questioned whether we were being foolish, but we said right from the start that we trusted supporters. Why shouldn’t we? It’s their club after all”

“It has worked exactly as we’d hoped it would. Some supporters who could afford to pay a bit more than they did last year, have done. But importantly those who could not afford to pay as much as the season before have been able to renew their tickets, by paying less”


Here here! Watch this space for more.

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