Monday, 28 June 2010

SEO: Silly Excuse to Over-panic?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to undermine Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – quite the opposite in fact.

With online retail alone set to reach 114billion by 2014, be it a product or service, it is more important than ever to be successful online.

Having said that, it often feels like we’re currently in a market where businesses are demanding ‘some of that SEO stuff’ with no idea what it means or how it works.

Even worse, people are not looking to invest in SEO to experiment with social search or utilize their keyword strategy but simply because they’ve heard the word once and now decided that they need it because everyone else is doing it – behavior that takes me back to the playground.

Essentially, this is why SEO is currently the subject of a bidding war between digital agencies, advertising agencies, PPC consultants and PR firms as they all fight to be handed the responsibility.

The fact is SEO should be viewed as less of a static object to fight over and more as an element that must be integrated into all aspects of a campaign. It is by panicking about SEO that a lot of businesses are under-estimating its abilities and not recognizing the advantages it can offer such as the ability to target a niche search audience and instead just wanting to be at the top of Google search rankings for every possible term under the sun (never gonna happen).

SEO is driving some businesses into such panic they appear to drop all strategy when they hear the term and run blind towards the first person with their SEO light switched on and, believe me, they don’t have to run far.

So why not take the time to school yourself a little? A concept that I feel never gets old.

As Mark Twain, the renowned American author once stated: “Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.” If it’s good enough for Twain, then it’s good enough for me.

Before running in panic towards the agencies waiting with open arms, why not pick up a book? I would recommend The Art of SEO by Enge, Spencer, Fishkin and Stricchiola I would offer my top ten tips for SEO, but the book is 555 pages long for a reason.

Learn about developing link worthy content and marketing, optimizing for vertical search and analyzing ranking factors – phrases that, at the minute, may make you want to curl up into ball.

This will then allow you the power to direct the agencies involved as, once you understand the core concepts of what builds up SEO, you will be able to develop a strategy. You’re never going to know HTML as a web designer, or developing content as well as a PRO but at least this way you won’t be shooting blind.

SEO is not going anywhere any time soon and it doesn’t need your business to survive. So stay calm, go back to school and get your nose stuck in a book - and that’s when you’ll be in a position to hire an agency to deal with SEO.

Friday, 18 June 2010

10 Questions I’d Ask If Was Taking On A PR Agency

Rolls Royce has been making headlines this week by announcing their bid to hire a UK PR Agency for the first time. Peter Morgan, Rolls-Royce's global comms chief, seems a tough judge to please stating earlier in the year that social media was 'a complete waste of time'.

It was from this that I got to thinking of the questions I would look to ask if I were looking to take on a PR Agency. Nope, I’ve never been inhouse. I did try it once but resigned on day three. But that’s another story. Other than that bizarre, and some would say, unfortunately episode (my mum for one), I have been frighteningly loyal to WPR ever since.

That said, over the years, I have picked up several accounts from very disillusioned Marketing Directors and taken on some wonderful staff with very curious stories to tell.

So, if I did ever go inhouse there are some questions I would ask before selecting my PR agency. However (before my CEO sprints through with a panicked look on her face) that is very unlikely to happen. Rather than let my thoughts go to waste, here they are (for what they are worth).

  1. What is the average number of rechargeable days per executive? Basic maths suggests that if it’s less than ten they’re in trouble, more than 15 and you’ll get an overworked, stressed out PRO who will have left the agency before your first year review.
  2. What is their annual training budget? Admittedly learning PR doesn’t compare to learning how to fly a fighter jet, but I’ve met a shocking number of PR people who come to us having never had a formal day’s training in their life. There is such a thing as learning on job, but when it comes to learning from your mistakes, I’d probably rather they weren’t on my account.
  3. Who will copy, mount and send me my press cuttings? If they say the account handler, alarm bells would ring. I’d rather not be paying upwards of £600 a day for someone to sit at their desk with a Pritt stick in one hand and piece of A4 in the other.
  4. What is their attitude to overservice? Overserve happens (it’s the curse of our industry) but how we handle it differs from agency to agency. Enormously. Trust me on this one.
  5. What is the average length of service? Our industry has a high staff churn – but there’s staff churn and there’s spinning like a washing machine on the fast cycle.
  6. Can the proposed Account Manager tell you the benefits of an inbound link? Can they tell you what a metatag is? Do they know your Google page rank? How would they optimise the copy they produced for the web? Does the whole team know their stuff when it comes to Digital PR – or is there a dedicated person/team? You get my drift.
  7. Does the agency practise what it preaches? How many followers have they got on Twitter? What is their page rank? Well, you’d never pick a hairdresser with bad hair – would you?
  8. Is the agency prepared to give you their entire client list and let you pick at least four people to approach for referrals? You’d hope so.
  9. How much time will the agency assign to just tracking your reputation and how will they do that? If you are serious about that one, ask them to sum your reputation up there and then. That’s a killer question but if they know their Alexas from their Technoratis, you’ll hear some useful stuff.
  10. How will the agency decide if they have done a good job for you? Not sure that there is a right or wrong answer on this one but it’s question I have always wanted to ask and would if I was you, which I’m not. Obviously.

More additions welcome – in fact, encouraged.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Obama puts BP in Deepwater

My first reaction to President Obama’s slating of BP was that those in glasshouses should not throw stones. I certainly would have liked to bring American business practices in this country to the President’s attention, particularly in relation to Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury and the leveraged buy-outs of our two most successful football clubs which leaves both now cumulatively £1.5 billion in debt.

However, while it is clear that the President is justifiably seething with BP, cold political calculation is also playing a part here. The President faces a difficult set of mid-term elections in November in which Louisiana, and in particular Florida, are likely to play key roles. He will be desperate to avoid the sort of backlash that hit the Clinton Administration in 1994 that ushered in Newt Gingrich and his ‘Contract with America’, which all but stopped the previous Democratic Administration in its tracks.

I also suspect that Obama sees opportunity in this crisis. One of the major stumbling blocks to reform in the US is the Senate, which remains precariously balanced with 57 Democrats, 42 Republicans and two independents, leaving the Democrats only a handful of seats short of avoiding a filibuster, by which a Senator can literally talk a bill to death without it ever coming to vote. Obama may be calculating that precious climate change and clean energy legislation can be rammed through the Senate with support of Gulf State Senators who dare not vote against such a bill at this moment in time.

Almost as big a question now is what happens to BP? Again, Obama has put them on the rack by demanding a $20 billion escrow account to compensate all those affected by the Deepwater disaster. The problem is that the money would most likely come from the shareholder’s multi-billion pound quarterly dividend which institutional investors are expecting in the coming weeks. The Board is therefore stuck between a seething President of the United States and very nervous, and potentially very angry, shareholders.

The smart money at the moment is that BP will muddle through in the short term before being taken out by a competitor once the furor has died down. This is infinitely preferable to bankruptcy, but whatever happens you have to suspect that this Board and the company is all but finished.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Fash Pack do Feminism, in an Ann Summers way that is...

Feminism is a dirty word. That’s what Stylist was telling us this week.

Oh whatever, women care about their rights. Whether we pack it up in a pink box and wrap a ribbon around it, or tell women it’s about ‘burning bras’ and ‘hairy legs.’ Most of us will have an opinion on it.

I know that you want to be ‘controversial,’ but this topic has been everywhere – from the page 3 ‘beauties’ in the Sun, to the most hoighty-toighty of broadsheet columnists. It’s been covered enough times to make you think watching Countryfile is fun. Genuinely it’s not. It’s about as fun as Scrapheap challenge. But that’s another blog in itself...

I’m a liberal feminist. Am I defined by this? No - it’s gives my opinions a name. I’ve read my Marxist Feminists, Radical Feminists, Black Feminists... If you want to find out about it, you probably will. But this read more like Usborne’s first book of Feminism.

The patronising level this magazine slowly tiptoed into was truly painful Now speaking really slowly, I ammmm goinggg to expllllainnn what the firrrrst waaave is ...

I agree that rape conviction rates are atrocious, that the pay gap is far too wide – but this title is aimed at professional career-minded commuter ladies, non?

I was so excited about Stylist’s launch that it felt such a missed opportunity. What was interesting is the fact they put 3 ad agencies on the case – most of which wanting to ‘reclaim feminsm’ and bring back its shine.

The most radical of which (not) came up with an idea to produce special t-shirts – because if Lilly Allen and Alexa Chung wear something we’ll immediately copy it. Just give them slogans such as ‘Hello boys. I’m a feminist’ and ‘Feminists get laid more’ (I’m struggling to type these...) and then we’ll love the word again. Plus (I’m presuming) men will love it too. Ha.

It’s less Katherine Hamnett, more Ann-Summers do intelligent - isn’t it?

Stylist I like you. We do need to talk about women’s issues, but I don’t think you gave the ‘normal’ woman enough credit.

Right, that over with, I’m off to buy some dungarees ;)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

World Cup Blog: Oh go on then, I’ll support England!

Those who know me well will know that I like nothing more than a good England football crisis. Turnip heads and headlines like “In the Name of God Go!”, Sven’s bedroom antics and FA incompetence have not induced despair over the years, but merely made me laugh.

Of course that’s not to mention some of the actual performances on the field. Who can forget the final game at the old Wembley, played in the pouring rain which ended in the 1:0 defeat to Germany and Keegan resigning in the toilets (what a metaphor!). Or even better the shocking defeat to Croatia and Steve McClaren standing under his brolly. My wife came into the living room half way through the first half that night and groaned, “Oh no, not football”. I was quick to put her right, “no, no you have to watch this, it’s hilarious!”

In my opinion, these ‘crises’ have led to some of the finest football reporting ever committed to paper. The dispatches of James Lawton of the Independent during the last World Cup should be required reading for budding sports journalists as Lawton’s temperature reached boiling point over the selection of 17 year-old Theo Walcott, WAGs, Baden Baden shopping trips, lacklustre training sessions and even worse performances during the actual matches.

Like many I suspect, I find it difficult to support any team with John Terry and Ashley Cole in it, but the roots of my apathy towards the England football team actually go much deeper.

I was brought up in the North of England and started to follow football in the late ‘70s when England, like now, played all their matches at Wembley. In order to get to see England my father would have had to take at least one day off work (but realistically it would be more like two days) in order to travel to Wembley for the evening match. England never ventured North and we didn’t have the time (and probably the money) to venture South. I grew up therefore more interested in club football, not least because England’s most successful ever team were a mere 20 miles away.

I have been accused over the years of being unpatriotic over this, but that is rubbish. In my book, being unpatriotic is refusing to go ‘over the top’ in the trenches when your country is at war, not feeling apathetic towards a football team you have never even seen live.

However, this time I admit I am torn and the reason is Fabio Capello. I am in awe of the job this man has done, taking a group of under-performing, selfish, over-paid juveniles and turning them into a team, ruling with an iron fist. I suspect he has had plenty of offers to write his autobiography, but he should turn them down and write a management text book instead. His sacking of Terry was a case in point, clinical and concerned only with what is best for the team not the individual.

If we fail at this World Cup (and we probably will as I suspect fatigue from our domestic league obligations are already taking their toll on key players) I will refuse to accept it is Capello’s fault. I draw the line at donning an England shirt, but this time I will tune in and support Don Fabio’s England.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Should the Telegraph stops its MP’s expenses investigations?

It is interesting that the fall of David Laws, who resigned as Chief Secretary to the Treasury over the weekend, has not been greeted with the same “serves him right” attitude that greeted last years’ revelations about duck houses, moats and second homes.

None of the weekend’s revelations concerning either Laws or Danny Alexander are new, in the sense that The Telegraph is merely mining the CD of information it bought from Parliament’s Fees Office early last year. Why haven’t these revelations about Laws or Alexander come to light before? Because, simply, prior to joining the Cabinet, The Telegaph had not deemed either important enough to question or investigate the raw information it acquired, which merely tells them what was claimed, namely rent in Laws’ case, but not the identity of the landlord.

There can be little doubt that the initial Telegraph investigations of early 2009 was landmark investigative journalism and did the country a great service in exposing the corrupt ‘anything goes’ atmosphere at Westminster. However, the collateral damage inflicted by this story with the effective ‘outing’ of Laws has left a nasty taste in many mouths and split many papers down the middle. Michael White in The Guardian has questioned whether the press has lost the plot on this one, while Roy Greenslade in the same paper defends The Telegraph and calls it a legitimate public interest story.

The sense I have is that the general public, far from being outraged at Laws’ behavior, appears at best concerned at the violation of privacy and at worst apathetic. It would appear that the law of diminishing returns might also be at work here for The Telegraph, with each revelation grabbing less and less attention outside the Westminster bubble.

We now have a new Parliament. The rotten apples have either been thrown out or been forced to account for themselves at a General Election. Certainly, our newspapers should remain vigilant and call MPs to account but, while dragging up information that is nearly a decade old in Laws’ case can constitute a legitimate public interest, I’m not sure his resignation and ‘outing’ serves the public interest . Perhaps it is time to move on.

What A Carrie On

Just like most twenty, thirty, forty and fifty something women, I was unbelievably excited about the second Sex And The City film. Having been a fan ever since my teens and knowing each episode word for word (much to the annoyance of my other half), the prospect of enjoying another two and a half hours in the company of my surrogate friends, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda, was one I have looked forward to for months.

From the trailer, it looked set to be a girlie romp in the Abu Dhabi dessert, a glamorous combination of camels and cocktails. With the tease of a wedding and the reappearance of fan-dividing past-love Aidan, it seemed that this film would have a lot to offer.

As the familiar theme music began, I couldn’t help but wonder… was this film going to be fabulous, fashion-overload or a farce?

Sadly, I was not the only person in either of the two cinema outings I went to over the launch weekend to audibly sigh with disappointment into my popcorn when the lights went up. I had refused to listen to the critics beforehand who poured scorn on this second cinematic outing; after all, any time in the SATC world would be a fun time surely?

However, to my mind, there were two clear problems with the film; a lack of real story for each of the characters and a rather disconcerting feeling of it all turning into a modern day Carry On film.

The ever questioning Carrie worries about becoming ‘too married’, with itchy feet two years on from marrying her true love Mr Big. So, when she meets Aidan in the Abu Dhabi market, everyone was on the edge of their seat anticipating a steamy affair. Alas, this twist was reduced to just a kiss, and after confessing all to Big, she is rewarded with a black diamond to remind her she is married. What a tough penance to pay.

Meanwhile, Miranda struggles with a new boss, Charlotte struggles with a crying two-year old and a braless nanny and Samantha struggles with the menopause by taking ever pill and potion know to man. It may sound like this is quite a lot to cram in but none of this is explored at real length and don’t even get me started on the men, who share a few meagre lines between themselves with the exception of Big.

However, this lack of depth all pales in comparison with the uncomfortably un-PC representation of Abu Dhabi and the country’s attitudes to women and relationships. Now, I know that being ‘politically correct’ can often be a bone of contention, but the way in which this culture is depicted is often stereotypical and the reaction of our four favourite women to the rules of the country verges on insulting (particularly when Samantha waves condoms in the faces of Muslim men in the market and simulates having sex. A touch too far perhaps?) Yes, the other women look suitably concerned with the predicament they are in, but when they bump into a group of women who hide their designer label clothes under their burkas, the film then transforms into a complete farce (I was willing to turn a blind eye to Liza Minelli singing Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ at Stanford’s wedding at the beginning of the film) . To flee the maddening crowd, the SATC girls disguise themselves in burkas, at which point I honestly expected Sid James to pop up.

Instead of exploring the facets of each character, all four ladies are turned into caricatures of their former selves, with costume changes averaging every 3 minutes, turning the film into a fashion show. I was more anticipating the next outfit than the next witty remark and this is a letdown because it means that every person who rolls their eyes when you say you are going to see Sex And The City is right about the stereotype.

For me, SATC was a sharp, witty and refreshing TV series and a fun, fabulous and emotionally wrought film and will always be dear to my heart. So much so, I am having Carrie’s ‘He was the end of her endings’ poem read at my wedding and will be going on the tour in New York on our honeymoon, with a picture of me sitting outside her apartment waiting for Mr Big to pick me up due to have pride of place in my hallway.

I have no doubt that the film will be a commercial success, which will no doubt lead to Michael Patrick King rubbing his hands together at the prospect of a third cinematic outing for our favourite four leading ladies (after all, how many films stick at just two? Most are tempted to become a trilogy). If this were to be the case I no doubt would succumb to my SATC addiction and rush out to buy my tickets.

However, as much as it pains me to say this, I think I would rather leave Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda in New York now, ever wondering what real love means over a cosmo or two.