Request for proposal? We’ll get back to you

March 19, 2013

Last year, we were invited to pitch for a media campaign for a major international manufacturer of industrial products. The brief was to come up with a campaign to re-invigorate the brand with new advertising and a PR campaign designed to create clear blue water between the company and its competitors. Alongside an incredibly talented team of senior creatives from one of our key partner agencies, Tiga UK, we worked hard to create what we judged to be a compelling pitch that ticked all the boxes. Having packed our presentation documents and visuals, our team travelled up the M40 to meet with the client and make our play.

We didn’t get it.

OK – you can’t win them all. But recently, we discovered that the account in question, actually wasn’t…in question, I mean. The company actually had no intention of relieving the incumbent of the account, and appeared to be merely testing the waters. Or possibly even fishing for new ideas at our expense. Alas this is not an isolated incident. Late last year, we we received a Request for Proposal (RFP) from a European government department. In this case, the sector we were being asked to work in was a new one for us. We were completely honest about our modest experience in this area; but having been assured that the lack of track-record was not a problem, we embarked on putting together a comprehensive strategy to achieve the objectives within quite a tight budget. The 30-page proposal took some serious midnight oil to put together, occurring as it did during our busiest period. But we did it and the document was couriered at considerable expense to the headquarters of the organisation concerned.

We were turned down; The reason? a lack of track record in the sector.

I recently came across a great article by John Warrillow on in which he argues that an RFP isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The thrust of John’s argument is that by going head-to-head with competitors, you are devaluing your offering (and theirs). By competing on price/cost you are sacrificing your USPs and margins in a race to the bottom that does nobody any good. Least of all you. It’s a convincing case and one that I think will inform our decision to respond to RFPs in future. I for one would rather focus on delivering the best quality of service to clients who value our particular expertise, rather than waste energy scrapping over a morsel dangled from above.

Popping the filter bubble

May 31, 2012

What’s the first image that pops into to your head when I say the word "Bubble"? Water? Champagne? Scuba Diving? House prices, the Economy? Whatever it was, my guess is it wasn’t "Democracy". And yet, in quite an ironic way, your choice is a great example of a newly defined "bubble" which potentially could have a profound effect on our understanding of the latter.

Whichever mental image sprang to mind when you thought of the word "Bubble" was not a random idea plucked from the ether, but in some ways conditioned by your preferences, your experiences and your current location. If I asked you this question when we are in an expensive restaurant supping Dom Perignon, or in an estate agents office or swimming in tropical seas, your answers would probably have been different each time.

OK – so what has this word association got to do with the concept of democracy? But before we get to that – let’s consider what the concept of press freedom has to do with democracy. Most people would accept that a functional free press is an indispensable part of a functioning democracy. The ability for ordinary citizens to ask questions, be exposed to different opinions, challenge facts and policies is a fundamental feature of a free society as most Westerners would understand it.  For the best part of 200 years, newspapers fulfilled this function. Now we have the internet, with its limitless capacity to connect us with different points of view and ideas. That’s got to be an improvement, right?

Well, it turns out it might not be thanks to a newly-identified phenomena called the "Filter Bubble". The argument goes that as our preferred internet destinations, Facebook, Google and now Twitter, are basing the information that they present us with on what they know about us, they are in effect creating a bubble around us – presenting us only with the things that, either by direct or implied choice, we have previously expressed an interest in. This is an invisible process, something that happens without you being aware of it – much like your unconscious choice of "Champagne" rather than "House Prices".

The originator of the Filter Bubble concept and author of a book by the same name is Eli Pariser. If you have some time to spare, watch his lecture at last year’s TED – thought provoking stuff.

New EU cookie law takes the biscuit

April 25, 2012

This morning, an estimated 90% of websites across the EU became illegal under EU law, thanks to an incredibly dumb piece of legislation requiring all websites to ask permission from visitors to store information about their visit on their computers in the form of a cookie. Even more incredible – the law also applies to every single website in the world that can be viewed from within an EU country. So that’s just about every single website on the internet – around 644 million sites at the last count – outlawed at a stroke. Here’s a short video from that explains the main features – and failings – of this bodged legislation.

The law was intended to protect user privacy, but in process of achieving this it has effectively dealt a hammer blow to businesses. Simply put, according to the IT guys virtually every website uses cookies. But to find out whether yours does or not, you’ll probably need to hire a web developer, who will then charge you to add an intrusive pop-up on your webpage which blocks the visitor from viewing your site until they have clicked on a link to explicitly give their permission for the use of any cookies that your site uses, or may use in the future.

So you have the expense of the additional web development work, the result of which is to erect a barrier across the front of your web presence that prevents the casual browser delving further into your site. All that money you spent on SEO? well that’s just toast now because the casual visitor arriving from a search engine will be prevented from seeing that content. Web browsers will once again be plagued by pop-ups and check boxes preventing easy traversing of data.

The effects on site traffic will be dramatic: It’s been reported that traffic on The Information Commissioner’s Office website dropped a staggering 90% when they implemented their EU compliant site.

Oh and did I mention? Failure to comply will result in a £500,000 fine. Yes, you did read that right.

It is difficult to imagine a more ill-conceived, unworkable and downright stupid law. If you want to have your say, you can sign the UK government petition to help get this ridiculous law reviewed

When it’s time to take off the gloves

March 2, 2012

PR is normally about cultivating relationships and generating a rapport with your audience. It’s not normally the right thing to do to assume a confrontational stance. But sometimes, if you need to create change or make a point, it is. Sometimes – as Alistair Campbell famously once did when he took on Channel 4 News in a live unscripted broadcast – it is in the client’s interest to go on the offensive and say what needs to be said.

Last year, the government launched an initiative called Make it in GB, aimed at promoting UK manufacturing. Certainly a worthy and much needed cause. As the PR agency for one of the UK’s largest manufacturing shows, we were pretty keen to offer our support – offering to make the show available as a launch venue for their campaign and giving them free access to our media activities. The response? "We’ll think about it." Regrettably, that’s about all they did do.

In fact, they didn’t even do that. After a sharp exchange of emails, I was called at the end of the first day of the show to be told that they were still "Having meetings" about participating. This was 3 months after the initial contact and when the event itself was already half over. I listened, open-mouthed, as I was told that we’d "Dropped off the radar". How could the one of the largest manufacturing events in the UK just "drop off the radar" of an organisation that exists solely to promote UK manufacturing? We were promised support – which turned out to be 2 tweets, neither of which contained a link to the show website – and the promise of a phone call after the event to discuss follow-up,  which never materialised.

Frustrated? You bet. Not on our account, nor even on behalf of the show organisers, but on behalf of the hundreds of people we met at the show doing fantastic work, who had worked so hard for success. They deserve support from campaigns like MiiGB.

It is not the place of government-funded campaigns to support private commercial enterprise. However it is the role of government to support business in general, and as was pointed out to the Make it in GB team, our objective was not to support the event as such,  but the 600+ businesses taking part. That was a fantastic opportunity for MiiGB to engage with 600 of the UK’s brightest and finest manufacturers – an opportunity totally squandered. This morning, having read another vacuous tweet from MiiGB about them "Looking for ideas how to support UK manufacturing", I thought it was about time we opened up the debate. Having Tweeted the fact that despite such fine words, they hadn’t shown much inclination to actually spend any time with manufacturers, I hope the message will hit home that there’s only so much you can achieve for UK manufacturers by Tweeting from your cosy West London office. I’m pretty sure there’s at least 600 people who’ll back me up.


A little PR goes a long way at exhibitions

February 28, 2012

We have just more-or-less completed the PR programme for the Southern Manufacturing & Electronics Show 2012. The show this year has been hailed a fantastic success by everyone that took part, and all the exhibitors we spoke to seemed delighted with the level of enquiries they’d received. Yet, as always, I wonder just how much better some of those exhibitors would have done with a little more pre-planning and forethought with regards their event promotions.

This year we had a record number of product stories from exhibitors which we used in the show blog and our various editor news round-ups in advance of the show. Yet, impressive though the number was – around 200 stories blogged – it covered less than a third of the total number of exhibitors present. Of course many companies run their own promotions in the run-up to the show, but there are still many that don’t – particularly the smaller companies and first-timers. For these firms, gaining visibility through participating in the show’s promotional campaign is an easy win. But I’m always amazed by how many fail to make use of this free service.

Naturally, it’s not an easy thing to write a press release if you’re unfamiliar with how it all works. But it’s not that hard – especially when you have the show press office to help you get it right. If you are doing an exhibition, do yourself a favour and make sure you really make the most of the opportunity by getting your story out. If you’re unsure what to do, why not download our free Preparing for an Exhibition guide to help you.

Multitasking: More Is Less says the WSJ

July 26, 2011

There’s growing evidence that multitasking can be harmful, and businesses need to re-examine goals for workers, writes Ruth Mantell in the Wall Street Journal

“With the ubiquity of mobile devices and other communications technology, many workers are expected to multitask, with some employees taking pride in their perceived ability to switch between complex tasks. But all this multitasking is putting workers, as well as their employers, at risk, experts say.

"It’s unequivocally the case that workers who are doing multiple things at one time are doing them poorly," says Clifford Nass, director of the Communication Between Humans and Interactive Media Lab at Stanford University. "The human brain just really isn’t built to switch rapidly from one task to another. Workers who constantly multitask are hurting their ability to get work done, even when they are not multitasking. People become much more distracted, can’t manage their memory very well."

Companies that demand multitasking may be damaging productivity.

"It would be a total tragedy if when we have so much potential to make the work force more intelligent, we are actually making the work force dumber," Mr. Nass says. "Companies that are demanding that workers multitask might not only be hurting their productivity, but may be making the workforce worse thinkers."

In a 2009 study, Mr. Nass and other researchers found that heavy media multitaskers are "more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli," and were worse at switching between tasks, likely because of their lesser ability to ignore irrelevant information.

Some companies are beginning to worry about the impact of multitasking, Mr. Nass says.

"Slowly you are starting to see companies starting to change from everything having to be answered immediately," Mr. Nass says.

From an employer’s point of view, one of the most worrying effects may be the trouble that chronic multitaskers have focusing.

"They are seduced by irrelevancy. They are constantly distracting themselves. They will look for distraction even when no such distraction exists," Mr. Nass says. "We are creating a culture that encourages workers to be less effective, handle information poorly and have a tougher time in social relationships. What does the work force look like where people can’t pay attention, where people can’t think deeply and where people lack emotional skills? It’s a pretty scary world."

Troubles can start when individuals try to work simultaneously on more than one complex task. Complex tasks require some reflection or mindfulness, says Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Anything that involves upgrading information requires consciousness, and that’s where the limited bandwidth comes in," says Mr. Miller.

Complex multitasking can mean missing out on details.

"The best way to get things properly stored in long-term memory is to pay close attention to them, and if you are overtaxing your short-term memory, you are going to be missing things and they won’t appear in long-term memory because they won’t be stored in the first place," Mr. Miller says.

When workers do complex multitasking they are often in a state of stress, and unable to recognize opportunities and solutions, says Linda Stone, a former senior high-tech executive based in Seattle.

"There could be an answer right in front of you that doesn’t look like what you think it should look like," Ms. Stone says. "In a stressed state, we often miss things that are right in front of us."

Multitaskers think they are much more successful at completing tasks than they actually are, experts say. Ms. Stone uses the phrase "continuous partial attention" to describe complex multitasking.

"We may believe that when we’re driving and talking on a cellphone, we are aware of everything around us," Ms. Stone says. "The truth is, we’re often missing quite a bit."

It can be tough to resist the allure of an unread email or unresponded-to instant message, but the reward is completing tasks at a higher quality level. Here are tips from the experts about how to stop, or at least curb, multitasking:

Strategize: "Plan ahead and remove the possibility of distraction. If there are [fewer] things tempting you, it’s easier to focus on the job at hand," says Mr. Miller.

Work on a single task for at least 20 minutes: "When you start to do something, do it and nothing else for 20 minutes. This trains you to focus, to think deeply. It trains you not to think that distraction is a positive, and it teaches your brain to be able to focus," Mr. Nass says.

Make face time sacred: "It’s very, very important for the human brain to really spend some time talking to one person, face-to-face, without any technological distraction," Mr. Nass says”

Ruth Mantell, On Sunday 10 July 2011, 11:22 SGT

Multitasking: More Is Less – Yahoo! Singapore Finance

Engineers are cool!

July 1, 2011