Monday, 14 May 2012

I've been watching how Kraft Foods handed over their Mac n Cheese social media accounts to Dottie and Frankie, as part of the "celebrations" around their 75th anniversary.

Non-Americans clicky here to found out what Mac n Cheese is.

And I smell something fishy in the state of Denmark. (hmmm now *there* is a mixed metaphor) as this whole escapade poses a number of questions...

1. What kind of damage will this do to the Kraft brand? Being patronising (calling your 2 new brand advocates "gals" for instance) to a demographic group that is important to sales of this product is probably, in hindsight, not such a good thing
2. If you're going to publish content to YouTube, try not to over-polish it. The Kraft official videos have the lingering odour of being heavily scripted, and the 2 ladies don't come over that well. And definely a whole lot less spontaneous than Kraft would have liked, I'm sure. Check them out for yourself
3. The language of the tweets is all out of kilter. Clearly there is someone behind the scenes (the mac n Cheese ad agency  CP+B is all over it, and so they should be) so why claim you're handing over your social media to the 2 ladies, if actually you're not? Check out the tweets here!/kraftmacncheese and look at the language.

What are the takeaways from this? (oh, and can you see what I did there?)
1. don't make claims about your social media that you might find difficult to follow through
2. don't patronise the elderly. Ever.
3. don't allow your ad/PR/marcomms agency unfettered access to your customers. They may mean well, but don't always get the brand tone in the right space
4. things that look good in a PowerPoint presentation don't always translate to the real world.

I'll be speaking at a conference in June

I'm one of the speakers at the forthcoming Web Effectiveness Conference in Budapest talking about devising and implementing web governance.

As it's only a month away, I suppose I'd better start preparing!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Never go to bed on an argument. How to foster a happy client/agency relationship

Client/agency relationships – is your's feeling more like Marie and Frank Barone than Ross and Rachel?

For nearly 25 years now I’ve worked either in an agency, or as a client managing an agency [but you look so young, I find that hard to belive – Ed]. During that time, some of it in traditional design or advertising, something that I’ve seen far too often is the breakdown of the client/agency relationship.

Shotgun weddings aside (and if you’ve ever had to deal with a large corporate procurement department you’ll know what I mean), like a warring couple, no one intends for it to happen when they swap virtual rings, eat digital cake and embark on their honeymoon.

So what can we all do, no matter what side of the bed we sleep on, to help build and maintain a good, productive working relationship? How do we keep the romance alive, and share thelove?

Yes dear, how awful

In the agency, you don’t see all the wrangling that’s usually been put in by your client contact. The painful extraction of budgets, the protracted negotiations over the deliverables, and if you’re lucky, the teasing out of a brief – it all happens out of agency sight.

The agency bit is often the last link in a chain (more so for design and build, rather than marketing), but your client contact may be pretty beaten up already. They’ve probably had a really bad day at the office. Be nice, support them, and see what you can do to make it a success.

And clients, dumping a quick turnaround, small budget, poorly briefed bit of work on your agency late on a Friday afternoon has consequences (bitter, regretful tears can stain your project manager’s desk something awful).

You wash, I’ll dry

I know it sounds pretty basic, but as a client you’ll get the best results by briefing up work to the best rostered agency who can deliver against it. So don’t give an SEO project to your UX agency and expect a good result. When I've been client side, I’ve always maintained a roster of agencies, all with varied (and sometimes multidisciplined) but specialised skills – design & build, marketing & SEO, testing, usability, technical build, translation, content maintenance, mobile and so on – and briefed work out appropriately.

And as an agency, learn to say “no, I’m sorry, it’s not really something we have the skills in house to do at the moment”. That way, no one can say you didn’t tell them if you have a hitting-the-fan moment.

So, shall I just move the couch right back to where it was at the beginning?

Briefing late, briefing incompletely, and briefing something that you know you’re likely to change is the digital equivalent of suddenly deciding you want to rearranging the furniture in the living room.... and then to change your mind and move it all back....half an hour before your mother is due for lunch. Please, don’t do it. Ever.

And agencies, learn to say “we’ll need to see if that’s going to work first” before you roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.

No, the dress doesn’t make you look fat. Your fat makes you look fat.

Good, constructive feedback is vital to an agency. Without it, everyone is really working blind, and creative execution (either graphic, content or technical) becomes a mixture of guess work and divination. However, just saying to your creative or technical director that “you just don’t like it” or (as has happened to me in the past) “who wrote this, the MD’s dog?” really does fall somewhat short of anything constructive. De-personalising your feedback for both parties is really important - things become much less about fragile egos and more about the job in hand.

A good agency will be under your skin already, know you well, and chances are will produce a piece of work to fit the brief you gave them. After all, noone in an agency wants to spend hours on a piece of work that they know is poor quality, or which is knowingly going to be miles off target. A constructive, honest and trustful dialogue is key to critiquing work – as an agency, if you’re going to go a little off piste tell the client beforehand, prep them, let them influence your direction more closely, that way there are no surprises.

And clients, please be really boringly pedantic when you prepare a brief. If there is no creative wiggle room, them say so right up front. If there is, then work with the agency, talk them through what you think you can get away with together, and what really will end up in the recycling bin in the kitchen.

And notes stuck on the fridge door are never taken constructively. Over the phone or face to face is better from a relationship PoV than trashing something in an email.

That’s it, you’re in the spare room

When things do get tricky, or there’s an issue that needs addressing, sulking and complaining behind each other’s backs to their friends really isn’t going to fix things. [Haven't we had enough of this analogy yet? - Ed.] Get it out in the open, talk about what went wrong, and why. Again, no one, either client or agency, deliberately sets out to fail, so talk about where the failure points were, and work out how best to avoid these in future. And don’t do this in the heat of the moment, nor leave it to fester. Remember; never go to bed on an argument.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Can you damage your brand yourself? Step forward Mark Ames and XXL Club in London

Can posting something inadvisable on Facebook (or elsewhere) damage your brand in the long term? And how much damage does it do in the short term?

Most of you probably are unaware, but last week there was a bit of a furore in the gay community here in London around a rather inadvisable posting made by a club promoter on his Facebook page.

Some background..... Mark Ames promotes a pretty successful club in London called XXL. It was originally aimed at the more hirsute members of the community, and used to pride itself on it's open, non judgmental approach to gay clubbing (which, back in the day when it started, was a pretty new approach). In fact their tag line was "One size fits all". And it used to be a hoot to go to - lots of hi energy dance music, a fun busy crowd, cheap booze and a generally a really good night out. The crowd has changed a bit now (well, it has been open for nearly 10 years) but generally its still a fun night out - as long you're a fan of the Freemasons/Kylie/Lady Gaga.

Mark posted a bit of a rambly posting on his Facebook page, about boycotting Muslim businesses and "sending them all back" because of the number of casualties we're experiencing in Afghanistan. The Pink Paper and both picked up on this and ran with it. A couple of Facebook communities then started up in response - including Bears Against Bigotry. There were talks of a ban on XXL, and people did march with Imaan, the support group for Muslim LGBT people on Saturday's Gay Pride march here in London.

Mark closed off his Facebook page pretty much immediately (not sure that was such a good idea, but understandable knee-jerk reaction), and on Thursday last week he (or his PR advisers) published an apology, which also appeared on the XXL website (well, kind of - there's a link to Mark Ames Promotions' page on Facebook, which has no apology on it... oops!) and elsewhere.

All within 48 hours of the news breaking!

So... short term, what happened to XXL? Well, Mark allegedly banned some of the organisers of the Facebook groups from XXL. Bears Against Bigotry marched. They now have over 900 supporters, and have a logo and everything - and arguably are now not a group to be pissed off lightly (well, if they ever mobilise and actually *do* anything).

And I've heard XXL had a busy night on Saturday. I'm not sure banning a couple of people will really hurt takings any great deal. Although time will tell - this news has got round the community (mostly through Facebook) and once the Pride party weekend has been forgotten, it'll be interesting to see what happens longterm to the attendance.

But to be honest, this will probably all blow over in a few weeks time. After all - Mark's Facebook page has been around for years, and if some of the screengrabs I've seen of the alleged photos he'd published on there are anything to go by, he's made no secret of his personal views. I hadn't noticed any significant pressure to boycott XXL then.

And lets face it, we gayer's aren't really known for putting our ethics before our lifestyle if it inconveniences us!

Friday, 11 June 2010

BP - corp comms teams can learn from this

I’ve been watching the story of BP the past couple of weeks, and how the mess they created (and I’m not just taking oil here) has got worse and worse. So, if like me until a little while ago, you’re sitting in the corp comms team of a large corporate, one that is only one c*ck up away from a BP-style crapstorm, what can we all learn from this whole situation?

Be humble
BP’s response at the very beginning of this was poor. The early attempts to deflect responsibility to their US operational partners was badly thought out and inappropriate.
Never forget that the start of this was a horrendous accident which caused the rig to catch fire and sink, killing 11 people. BP’s public official response to this was a pretty hands-off press release on 21 April, where they “offered ... full support to drilling contractor Transocean” as they evacuated the rig. A day later, they followed this up with another release, to say they were activating “an extensive oil spill response”. Nothing then, until 24 April, when their next release “offers sympathy to the families of those lost”.

In each of these releases they make significant mention of Transocean – in many ways this is understandable (and accurate, don’t forget) but was it sensible? It was clear very early on that this was going to be a significant incident and a deeply sensitive issue. A UK company being so quick to blame a US company for this, right on their doorstep, and so early on, was not sensible.

Compound this with the comments made by Tony Hayward on the now notorious CNN interview (but more of this later) it was enough to sow the seeds of discontent in the US.

Anyone would think this was BP’s first major disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Own the story
BP’s initial hands off approach allowed the story agenda to be set by others – in particular the US media, the US government and it’s response agencies. BP has since been responding, rather than initiating, comment on the spill. This has not panned out well!

With no quick fix, the White House has been increasingly keen to find someone to blame; to deflect criticism from southern, deeply Republican, deeply hostile states, that they are powerless (who says Hurricane Katrina did no good for anyone – it taught the White House media staff a hard lesson!). Step forward BP – conveniently listed abroad, and with much more to lose (both reputation and money) than any of the other parties who may be responsible.

Even Transocean has been happy to hide behind BP’s large, corporate, well funded skirts. A quick look at the Transocean corporate website shows some real estate on their home page given over to it, but that's about it. More interestingly, a look at their press releases shows relatively little official comment since the accident itself. And who can blame them.

The official response site was setup and is maintained by the Unified Command center (mostly US agencies with input from BP and Transocean), and is powered by Pier Systems, a US based emergency response specialist. They also manage BP’s four state-specific response sites, but more of these later. If I was being disingenuous I might even hint that BP was outsourcing their digital response, but that would be mean...

Unfortunately, the media cat is now out of the bag, and BP are in the unenviable position of being permanently on the back foot. When Congressmen are even saying that “everyone with a British accent from BP is lying to the American people” you know you have more than a passing reputational issue (will the last person in BP’s press centre please turn out the light as they leave!). Mind you, he may have a point. Today, the US Geological Survey have announced that the initial spill figures may have been significantly lower than the reality.

The Attorney General has even said that the US government will not pay a dime towards clean up and that BP will be held responsible. Now, I wasn’t aware that the cause of the initial incident had been established yet, and that culpability had been decided (step forward Transocean, Halliburton, US legislators and indeed BP). If not then BP may have a legitimate claim for prejudice and have any potential lawsuit against them contested accordingly.
Talking of which, amazingly Halliburton seems to have slipped almost unnoticed under the radar. After testifying at the Senate hearings, they seem to have ducked out quite successfully. In fact, there’s not even a mention of the oil spill on their website home page, other than a cursory financial statement about an IR call. Mind you , the Halliburton website contained very useful information about their Texas headquarters. Read whatever you want into that...

Never mind, BP did buy sponsored links to their response site from the major search engines. so that’s OK then. Media response owned. Not.

Manage your senior management better
Never let your CEO in front of the press when he’s stressed. Never. Really, never, ever do it. Have a look at that CNN interview again I’m not sure about you, but I get the distinct impression that he’s continually trying to suppress a smirk. I’m sure that’s not for any other reason than he’s stressed, tired, and generally incredibly stretched, and is no more than a human defence mechanism. But still... a bullish approach to slicing up the blame cake by a smug overseas CEO was never going to play well in Peoria. Or Alabama.

And if you insist on taking him off his leash and letting him run around in front of the press unsupervised, please warn him against either saying something tactless (like about getting his life back) or being arrogantly dismissive about the impact your incident might have in the future (compared to the size of the ocean, the spill is tiny).

Hopefully the forthcoming meeting between and Obama and the BP chairman will be better managed by BP’s comms support staff.

Unfortunately, it took far too long for BP to engage openly with their stakeholders. Their initial hands off approach didn’t lend itself to any form of engagement – which has subsequently become a damage limitation exercise. Their four local response sites have been set up by Pier, who registered the relevant domains on 14 May. That’s nearly FOUR WEEKS after the disaster. Seriously people... what’s going on?

Well, at least they had some idea of doing something – on 7 May they registered which is currently used for emails. Mind you, note to Pier staff, please check the “title” tags of your websites a bit more carefully. Oh, and while you're at it, please sort out the .ico images on the HEAD element of your response sites - check out the URL bar on to see a rather lovely hurricane image. Best not tempt fate, eh? (Bet you can't tell that Pier System saw significant business during Katrina...)

I can’t see much in any of these official BP sites that is any real attempt to engage. There’s some fairly bland info about volunteering, reporting, wildlife and so on. But nothing that really reaches out. And the tone of voice really leaves a lot to be desired. Dry, corporate, unfriendly – there’s a time and a place for content like that, but arguably this isn’t it. And if you’re going to launch an official site, please at least try to follow your own visual identity guidelines. The site design is a mess! As is the IA, the UX and all sorts of other things. But I digress.

However, on the ground it looks like BP are starting to wake up to the benefits of direct engagement. The Belle Chase Outreach meeting on 9 June, and the video, is a great start.
And the official BP response site does show evidence of what they’re doing to contain the spill, but again tone of voice is dry and corporate. Even the failures of initiatives like “top kill” are smothered in corporate language. At this point, it doesn’t help, and it’s really adding to the wider perception that BP is not acting openly and honestly. However, when you start reading sections like this on the response site you can see why the whole ToV thing is a nest of vipers for BP. This magazine-stylee, chatty verbose crap is really not appropriate in this situation.

Social media has really gone into a frenzy on this. BP have tried in Facebook and in fairness have kept the page up to date. There’s lots of commentary on their wall, and it looks like they’ve undertaken minimal editing of user posts (points for that!). Their official Twitter account has also been busy at but mostly pushing out info, not much engagement. However, I can understand this, they’re using it as an update service rather than a conversation channel.

Let dissenters have their space
Big snaps to BP on this one. They’ve allowed space for critics and dissenters to have their say (they must have learned from Shell’s issues with

So step forward my favourite have-a-go heroes:
Stop the oil spill by stuffing BP executives into the leaking pipe
Design a new BP logo at Greenpeace

How would BP handle a coffee spill? (this is a great, cynical view of the whole incident!)
and my personal favorite, the fake BP twitter account.

Clearly, this isn't over. BP is starting to get things under control, both in the GoM and in the media. But this has become so much worse for them than it needed to have been, and it's not over yet...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

UK election, media coverage gets social?

Just back from a long weekend in Berlin, so thankfully I've managed to miss most of the high drama of the hung parliament negotiations. The Germans did find it strange that we were making such a big issue of having a coalition government....

So now most of the dust has settled, it's been interesting to see how much, if any, digital media has managed to influence either the campaign, or actual voting.

I think the biggest impact on the whole party campaigning has been those sites that have given voters an ability to take the piss out of their politicians. One of the earliest, even before the official start of the campaign, was the "My David Cameron" fake Tory poster site where users could upload their version of Conservative party posters. This probably did more to bury Tory billboard ads than anything, particularly as the site went viral REALLY quickly, courtesy of their Facebook pages.

Sites like The Straight Choice (where people can upload local canvassing leaflets) proved a great supply of nonsense for the press to pick over. And gave all of us transparency on what out party of choice were doing at a local level - and all the major parties can hang their head!

The more mainstream, established political bloggers (Ian Dale, Guido Fawkes et al) have really become just that - mainstream. They were being covered in press and broadcast just like many of the other established media outlets, or as official outlets of one of the political parties - is this a sign that political blogging has now grown up? I do hope not, though checking sites like UK poll blogs makes for rather dull reading. I can only cling on to sites like Liberal Conspiracy or Old Holborn to restore my faith in old fashioned, nutjob political blogging....

And talking of Facebook, how many people joined any of the "I bet I can find a million people who....[fill in your hated election outcome here]" groups that were around? Or published links to various websites or news stories? I think Facebook has only just been noticed as a tool for grass roots political activism... and not necessarily by those people that really need to!

Twitter seemed to come into its own during this election, particularly during the leader debates. The number of people who felt the need to tweet every time they heard something they thought newsworthy was pretty astonishing. Quite who they thought was reading their tweets rather than watching the debates seems beyond me, but there we go.

So, now we have a coalition government, one that will need to work together in a consensus. One that could break up if enough grass roots support fails. Let's hope that they have learnt from the election, and not ignore the power of crowds.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Social Media in a Corporate Context conference

I was one of the speakers at the Social Media in a Corporate Context event today, run by the lovely people over at Communicate Magazine. I was whittering on about the role of social media and investor relations.

(yes, again!)

Really interesting set of presentations and discussions, the summaries of which you read here.

What struck me most about this whole event was how the whole sector is maturing, particularly when comparing it with similar events I went to a couple of years back. I remember back in 2006/2007 talking almost exclusively about CEO blogs and wikis - we didn't even touch on Facebook or Twitter. And how scared everyone was - all the discussions then were about getting management buy-in, establishing a business case, looking at what IBM and people were doing.

Speaking to people today was so different. Now, we're looking at social media as being almost mainstream. There isn't the "fear of the new" that permeated the audience back then in the dim dark days. Now, we're openly assuming that most organisations are embracing social media, either as an established comms channel, or as a monitoring tool.

The challenges now are how we can get most bang for our hard earned comms dollars, how we can minimised organisational risk, and how we get people to start using the tools in the way that we comms professionals expect them too!

And if you want to follow up on any of the points I talked about, feel free to contact me.