Monthly Archives: January 2011

Why Smart Businesses Are Hiring Their Own Journalists

Anyone who has tried to work with a local newspaper recently will know first hand that local news gathering is in crisis.

Advertising continues to fall away and while they struggle to take on board the new reality of video and dealing with breaking news in real-time they are failing to prioritise the business of going out and finding new and interesting stories that no one has heard before.

It’s a shame because so many great journalists started out in local news. Now  new recruits are paid even less than we were 20 years ago and they get a fraction of the experience and training.

But if the outlook for the future of your local rag is gloomy then the up-side is that there are lots of experienced journalists out there with old school standards and training and many are making interesting careers for themselves working directly with business.

All the smart businesses want to be doing social media right now – quite rightly – and creative types who can write and tell good stories are naturals at it. If you are used to writing pieces in several lengths and formats, headlines, news in briefs and longer discussion pieces then writing a blog post, a white paper and a 140 character tweet does not pose an insurmountable challenge.

There is a wealth of talent out there and smart companies are increasingly choosing to work with their own journalists direct.

It goes hand in hand with realising that content creation is now where it’s at. By creating your own content in the form of online magazines, videos and blogs – cutting out the old school media entirely –  you can reach out to your customers direct. See for example, Procter and Gamble’s Man of The House Magazine

It is not about a return to the hard sell, which is going to put off both customers and any journalist who values their independence, but a chance to develop communities of readers, supporters and “fans”. A good example is The Girls School Association who have a website and online community called My Daughter which offers a place for parents to discuss issues around raising teenage girls.

But it doesn’t have to be a website – it’s up to you – a TV channel, an online fanzine  – they are all ways of telling your stories and collecting together those of your community.

So get excited about content creation and bag yourself a journalist to help you. If you need any help give me a shout.

Read This Before You Leap Into Video

You’re not doing video? What do you mean you’re not doing video – video is the next big thing didn’t you know – the New Year batch of social media predictions left us in no doubt about that.

In fact it’s already being done pretty comprehensively all over the web with 36 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and 2 billion videos viewed every day.

And if you want to get found then apparently the SEO advantages are off the scale – they say You Tube is the second largest search engine in the English-speaking world.

So what’s not to like?

Well plenty actually. Let’s look at a couple of examples of why I think you should think carefully before you rush in to video.


Video is great for forming a bond with your audience by letting them see who you are. Good looking bloggers with quality equipment who talk fluently have the upper hand as do enthusiastic “good eggs” who don’t care if it’s a bit creaky – but I don’t know how many of us have the chutzpah to get away with that. Look at this video from good egg Gini Dietrich who writes Spin Sucks and is fab – but do I really want to take time out of my life to listen to a dog bark all over what she is trying to say?

The “Fun” Video

Create video that is fun and engaging they say. Funny videos go viral and can draw attention to your brand for a fraction of the cost of a TV advert but I think this has already been overplayed. You have to be terribly witty and original to make something which is genuinely funny. Look at this video from the medical billing company NuesoftTechnologies * “hilariously” ripping off Lady Gaga.

The goal of the video was not about generating sales leads but to get noticed by thought leaders in the industry. Well it’s good to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve but to me this “jolly spoof” is pure David Brent and if I were a thought leader I’d run a  mile. Staff larking around in a “You don’t have to mad to work here bit it helps” fashion, may get you attention but what about respect, influence and kudos?

OK let’s get positive now – on the plus side “How To” videos are great. If you need to know how to do something, like a one-armed press up or how to make an icing funnel, then You Tube or I-village are full of brilliant video tutorials (if you are lucky you get a buff guy by a pool in LA as well, although there is less demand for naked cake decoration.)

I don’t mind the slightly home-made aspects of these videos because they meet a direct need – how do I do that blinking one arm press up? But I deplore shoddy work which could be avoided. Is there a cult of the amateur going on which positively welcomes the wonky vid?

Laura McBeth, senior marketing manager for Washington Green Fine Art says it’s all about knowing your audience. She produces video with a hand-held ‘home-made’ feel when she wants to promote mid priced product for a youngish audience who will comment and share. This is perfect for raising awareness and buzz but may not always lead to a landslide in sales. When it comes to selling something luxurious and top end Laura reckons the higher income crowd want something slicker and more polished and she gives it to them.

Better broadband speeds coupled with cheaper video recording devices and ever more user-friendly editing software means video can be done really well even by solopreneurs and bloggers.

PR and Social Media expert Paul Sutton from Bottle PR sent me a link to this slick social media tutorial on the Social Media Examiner which proves the point.

In conclusion, the year ahead will increase the need for all of us to be more creative and innovative. Things aren’t going to slow down and we need to keep across it. But you need to make a conscious decision about why you want to do video, whether it is to improve your rankings, appeal to a new demographic or get your stuff talked about and shared.

There is nothing wrong with choosing what works for you and there is no compulsion to jump in without a plan.

If you do decide to do video;

  • Keep it short 30 secs – 2 mins max
  • Interview others but be kind – people hate the sight of themselves even more than they hate the sound of their own voice.
  • Don’t be afraid to take your time and do several takes – no one wants the Occado man in the background.
  • Enjoy yourself – shifty and embarrassed is not a good look.

My thought to take away? Try to produce the best work you can.

* This example is taken from the HUBSPOT e-book – 11 examples of online marketing success

Thanks to all who helped with this post including mediawomenuk who helped source additional material.

Bad Customer Service Reveals What They Really Think Of Us

Good news! Mary “Queen of Shops” Portas is going to tackle customer service in her next TV programme.

Bad customer service is something of a bugbear of mine, as regulars will know. I have absolutely no time for it and I WILL complain. (Scary)

The thing is, if you are a big organisation, bad customer service is actually a choice. You actively have to decide that customer service doesn’t matter and that you will sacrifice it to something else, like a cheap wage bill or huge stock turnover.

This explains why Mary Portas wants to kill herself in Homebase and why the sales assistants in some shops won’t even acknowledge that I exist.

Good customer service is a policy passed down from the top about the way the company feels about its customers. Leading the field is John Lewis and its supermarket brand Waitrose. Have you noticed how pleasant their checkout staff are?  It is all taught – drummed into them on training courses. I know this because a  friend’s husband was in charge of turning a batch of Safeway’s staff into Waitrose employees and I have to tell you, some of them didn’t make it.

John Lewis knows that politeness is important to  their customers and they try to make the hideous business of buying groceries as pleasant as possible.

I think that is something we all deserve whether we can afford to shop in Waitrose or not. So I would like to send special thanks to the assistant in Sainsbury’s who rescued me recently from self checkout hell.

The problem was that every time I tried to take a full bag away, the robot told me I was not authorised to remove items from the bagging area. So they just mounted up into a huge pile until my entire weeks groceries were a wobbling mound in front of me. I was sweating at the thought of my car park ticket running out while remaining pinned to the spot by the shouting robot lady.

Enter the kind Sainsburys assistant who sorted it all out without once betraying her irritation at my stupidity.

Everyone deserves good customer service and it shouldn’t be down to a lucky break with the shop assistant.

I think they need to know that we know that good customer service is a management decision which reveals what THEY think about US.


The most popular Facebook meme among my friends over the holidays was a list of 100 must-read books. The idea is that you take it as a quiz and post your score on Facebook to wow your mates. Here is a version of the list. I have to say I did rather well!

But this is not my point. Yes, we’re all highly competitive and love to share scores but it also shows us that most people have read a good number of  books, which says a lot about our enduring love for a story.

Stories are everywhere – woven into the fabric of our lives. You really don’t have to sit down with a paperback to be affected by them. Do you realise that many products being sold to us today come with their own fictionalised history – from training shoes to sweaters? Marketers are frequently asked to invent back stories to add history to a product.

The one I came across most recently was for the Hollister brand – essentially a pile of over priced T-shirts and hoodies sold out of ultra dark clothing shops with a queue, the brand has an elaborate and totally fictional history. We are lead to believe that the brand was established in 1922 by a free spirit from the Hollister family with surfing in his veins – it was actually established 10 years ago by Abercrombie and Fitch as an extension to their brand.

Humans love stories and we cling to them as they seem to add authenticity and depth – even when they are made up!

Look at how lost we feel when our stories are taken from us. Adopted children search high and low for the truth of their parentage so they can fill in the gaps about their story. Millions of people hunt down their ancestors on the internet looking for the ‘real’ story to bolster their sense of self. Sometimes we learn about ancestors who have lied about their stories because they were ashamed or wanted something better.

There is no moral to this story – I merely wanted to remember how powerful all forms of story telling can be, whether that’s the tale you tell to your child at bed-time tonight, or the marketing rubbish you suck up with your cereal – or the tales you weave on Twitter and Facebook about yourself, your business or the brands you represent.

Enjoy the stories you tell this year, because if you’re anything like me you’ll be telling plemty.