The CFO Challenge

Take a look at some interesting figures emanating from the US yesterday into the perception among chief financial officers (CFOs) at Fortune 1000 companies of their respective marketing teams. Less than a quarter (22 per cent) believe that marketing heads should be given more money to work with and 47 per cent were “not confident” in the job their marketing partners were doing for them.

This begs several questions: Firstly, are those marketing teams in that “47 per cent” doing an effective job? Secondly, do marketing directors enjoy a platform where they can show off internally what they’re doing for the company (we all know how much of an issue “measurement” is)? Thirdly, are CFOs just Spock-like, logical number crunchers who don’t like us wishy-washy creative types much anyhow?

I’ve seen plenty of big firm “year start” meetings and they tend to major on sales, there can’t be any doubt about that. But there’s clearly a disconnect here if marketing teams aren’t being given the credit they may be due and the resource they definitely need.

One thing can be sure in this current economic climate: If you sit there and say nothing, no one’s going to hear you. Now will someone please tell the CFO?


Internet World 09: Everything to everyone - and nothing to all

Walking around Internet World yesterday in Earl's Court, London, I wasn't awed, I'll be honest. I'm usually somewhat critical of tradeshows where the main goal seems to be checking out what your competition is doing. But to me, last year's Internet World felt way more exciting and new than this year's version. Granted, there was something small in between called THE CREDIT CRUNCH. However that fuels my argument even more - that the vast majority of exhibitors mistakenly wanted attendees to believe they did, literally, everything - when clearly they do not. List out anything that one could ever do on the web, and you'd fill the Library of Congress. "The interwebs" spans as many diverse areas as life itself, in which all of these exhibitors were claiming to be experts.

It's amazing how the one most basic rule of marketing can be so blatantly ignored, or just missed, by so many companies. Try to be a jack of all trades - and become, by default, the master of none. When it comes to marketing, I was taught that you should blow your trumpet about your USPs. How can 80 per cent of Internet World's exhibitors be the 'leading provider of' SEO, digital marketing (how nebulous is that choice of phrase anyway?), targeted direct marketing, email marketing, web design, creative web presence, content management, social media, AND etc etc etc.

The only way you wind up with a stand that says so little is 'marketing by committee' - and this show really smacked of it.

Maybe I'd gotten stuck in some web jargon black hole but I talked to at least a dozen companies in a row, all of whom did all of the above and none of whom could explain their business in less than a zillion words of gobbley-gook. The standout in that area of the show was the French Pavilion. Crammed in amongst the jargony jargoneers were a couple innovative Frenchmen and women, on a joint booth sporting a shoddy version of the French flag and great accents, but sadly no champers or soft cheeses. This last fact was duly noted by the president of Netways, a company with an impressive list of car-maker clients who execute integrated marketing campaigns. Thank goodness - I'd found someone who could point to real customers doing real stuff. I know what cars are. I even drive one.

Granted, they're our client, but a big standout for us was the area by the Innovation Zone, sponsored by Huddle, where some different offerings could be found - e.g. Webjam for creation of specialised social networks - Xero for online accounting software and Siondo for online ERP. Another highlight for me was an interesting conversation with the technical lead at punkyduck. Why did I remember them? No, it wasn't the hot pink stand. He stuck a stake in the ground and told me what they actually did - create Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIN apps to drive brand presence for everything from pregnancy brands (guess your baby's sex) to flixter to rate movies on your FB profile. I'm sure they do other stuff, too - they're smart people. But I 'got it' because he was willing to stick to one story long enough to understand their value-add. I'll find out later what else they do.

I then ran into a fellow American startup person who begged me not to ask what his company did, he was so sick of talking the talk. He'd attended the conferences and claimed to learn very little, though admitted the talks were well-presented enough to distract you into thinking you were learning something new. He ambled off home in a fog at 3 pm definitely brought on by too much of 'Teh Interwebs.'

Anyway hopefully you got a picture of the show if you weren't lucky enough to attend this year - the show coordinators claimed attendance would rise to 13,000 - ten per cent more than last year - but never have 3,250 people seemed like a smaller crowd to me. The lesson in all this for exhibitors is, be specific! Don't be everything to everyone and fall into a jargon blackhole - else risk turning into a comet that just passes in the night. (See how I did that?)


Three More Clangers

There are three more PR bugbears which have come to my attention this week below. Two of which are pure bad training of an exec by his/her seniors and the other is an example of a PR firm not having the cojones to push back on its client and tell them that something won’t work.

Corporate in-talk: It’s bad form in my view for a PR firm to assume that a journalist knows what a firm does. So when the predictable and unfamiliar technology/pseudo-Greek-fusion nomenclature appears in the sentence without the faintest hint of a description of what the company does the journalist is instantly lost. So the rest of the ‘in-talk’ – the name of its products and the inevitable own trumpet blowing which may mean something to those within the firm and its PR agency but nothing to the other six billion people on planet Earth – is redundant because the journalist already has a finger on the delete button.

Companies are singular: To compound the paucity of the above pitch unfamiliar technology/pseudo-Greek-fusion named company was referred to in the plural – “[name] are, their product etc”. People, people – companies are SINGULAR. Always.

Paper talk: OK, so you’re a PR talking to one of the vast majority of trade publications whose readers aren’t investors looking to buy shares and are actually logging onto website X to learn how to improve business performance, for example. So, why on earth would you like to lead the pitch with “CEO [name] could talk about the company’s recent share performance and why this is good news for the industry…”

OK, your company’s doing well. Great. Why not talk about what it’s selling and why there’s demand for it rather than subjecting the world to a dead pitch?

Am I out of line or is this fair comment? Your thoughts, please...

Women in IT - one personal story

The topic of women in IT has sparked a huge debate this week after the session at Geek n' Rolla which we previously blogged about. Some people (Mike Butcher and the women on the panel) get the fact that there is a lack of women in IT, and know that perhaps we should do something about it. They understand there is an inherent problem with an industry fostering males to succeed while perhaps not doing enough to attract women.

But other people don't. Without name checking them, look here here for an example.

Now I'll share a highly personal experience that happened to me, when I *swear* I was discriminated against by being a woman. I went into job interview for one of the world's biggest software companies. I felt well-qualified for the job. I felt I had a good portfolio. They told me I was on a shortlist of three for the role. But when I told the interviewer that I was getting married in five months, I swear, on my life, the entire feeling of the interview changed. A dark cloud seemed to wash over our previously warm discussion. I never heard back from the company, which was pretty unprofessional in those circumstances. I didn't get any feedback and I never even got an actual 'no.' I really suspected, afterwards, that they didn't hire me because they knew I was about 30, just about to get married, and thought I was at risk of being on the fast track to pregnancy.

Note: I could be completely wrong, they could have just not liked me. It's totally plausible. But you know that saying 'women's intuition'? On retrospect I wound up saying to myself: "Damn, stupid mistake, you should never, EVER discuss your marital status in an interview unless you have to.' How unfair is that? And if the situation was as I read it, it is their loss, because like a lot of married young women, I'm focused on my career and doing good things for other companies, not theirs. And if a man said he was getting married, it wouldn't signal such thinking. This is why I used the words 'discriminated against.'

Of course, this happened to happen in a tech company but it could have happened at a job interview in any sector. It's just that I happen to work in tech, an industry where there are far more men than women and where it feels like women have a higher cliff to climb to prove themselves. And it also seems to be an industry where teams are desperate to cling onto any competitive edge they have, and tend to freak out about small stuff, like a coworker having a baby.

Have you ever had a similar experience? I'd love to hear it. And I'll try to dig up the link to a great survey a recruitment company did about the exact issue spelled out above.


Rent-a-Ghost? Not Likely...

I heard a funny story this week from Penny Power of ecademy for a New Media Knowledge story I wrote on Digital Britain. She recalled that last week she was at London’s Heathrow Airport when she bumped into Business Secretary Peter Mandelson. She commented on how much she enjoyed his Twitter updates to which he allegedly replied “oh no, they are not me”. (As it happens, at the time we went to press Lord Mandy had only 22 updates and none since mid-Feb!).

This raises an important question for digital pros. Ghost blogging - the art of penning blogs for other people - is standard industry practice. Hell, I even do it for a living! But where we always draw the line at Hatch PR is “ghost tweeting” – that is something that simply cannot be outsourced. The three main reasons for this are:

1) Brand: Twitter demands an instantaneous response. How much time do external PR suppliers lose by waiting for sign-off on comments for the press? Anyone agency-side can tell you that only an in-house person should speak on behalf of the company on a public medium such as Twitter. It has to by-pass the approvals chain

2) Time: Outsourced PR agencies have multitudes of clients and they cannot possibly keep tabs on the Twitter chatter at the same time effectively while dealing with their other responsibilities

3) Logistics: Even if they could, I’m not aware of an application that will let you sign in under multiple Twitter IDs. I have two myself – CMRLee and CycleTourSpain, my weekend side-project/hobby – and I can tell you, it’s not easy. It needs a dedicated member of the in-house marketing team on Tweetdeck responding in real time with authority that can only come from being ‘authorised’ to speak on behalf of the organisation

We can all imagine what would happen in just one of those microblogs was off message…
And, take note New Labour, if you’re going to tweet at all, at least follow through rather than just waft a hand in the vague direction of technology by setting up a Twitter account and not keeping it (a) consistently up to date and (b) entering into dialogue/multilogue with the rest of us.


Why no women in tech? Blog from Geek n Rolla

Today's Geek n Rolla conference in London is making waves around the world (previous link to Washington Post's live video coverage) and has been truly fascinating at times (but who doubted that?). A winning session was the Just a Girl debate about the low numbers of women in tech startups. Here's the full transcript - the crux of the issue is that a) we need to do something more about the numbers of women in tech and b) there are no obvious answers. Wanting to hear the rest of the show precludes us from writing a well-thought out summary just yet, but I will update this post when things die down with a bit more of a Re:medial analysis on this issue. It's a fantastic topic, and hats off to Mike Butcher for including it on the agenda. This debate got firey, so hold onto your seats.

Just a girl - balancing tech culture: getting more women involved in startups

cate sevilla, bitchbuzz

this session is about lack of women in tech. there are lots of studies on this problem. gartner did a study on women and men in IT - breaking through sexual stereotypes - number of women in IT declined 10% from 96 to 2004 - the study author said we 'need to change the game.'
some put offs for women in tech:
-men are too macho
-intimidating workplace
-are there simply less women who want to be in tech?

leisa reichelt, user experience consultant
sophie cox, founder of worldeka.com
zuzanna pasierbinksa-wilson, huddle.net
nacera benfedda, director of product at viadeo

look more at education and training issues. making information accessible to more kinds of people.
is women interest the issue?
how conferences are set up and how information is given is part of the problem.

i took a little study to centre this discussion. around 200 quality respondents took the survey - people from within the industry. the stats showed that 50 per cent of women don't get into startups / tech because they don't want to.
less than one third said it's because they don't have enough good role models. there is more to this than women simply not wanting to get into tech.
women constantly make choices and sacrifices in their lives: "do i want to have a career or do i want to have a family." it's a question women always face.
in tech they also face others. when tech companies are hiring, do you want to fight established stereotypes and do you want to even go there?
then you need to think about maternity pay, etc.
it's a case of an old boys hiring network, hiring in their own image - there are already more men than women.
one commentator on my survey said "it's like not being let into golf clubs or smoking rooms."

that's the data and that's true, but if you look at the data on the tech scene in general we are quite liberal, left-wing and equal opportunity so if you compare to city boy network ingrained sexism in that culture, technology should be more accessible.
family time goes both ways - men need to get home to families too.
it is so ridiculous it is happening in a relatively liberal culture, like tech.
cate sevilla, bitchbuzz
sophie, your first profitable company was started when you were 16 is it the working culture or the risk?

no, it's personality driven, i know a lot of men that are scared of risk and would hate to work for themselves.
that is part of the reason i don't have kids - it's similar for me.

no it's slightly different for men.
women are the only ones who can have children and breastfeed so there is always going to be a difference. men can't take that on although we'd like them to.

we should just work on that then - well done.

i wonder if part of the reason that we don't have enough women in technology is identifying with the industry -- i have friends who work in PR, for instance and only do PR for tech, but always say they are PR, not tech.
maybe we are counting a lot of people out.

in that case i would expect more PR and marketing people to be here.

they have done a lot of studies into why girls and universities don't want to get involved in tech companies. they want to get into creative industries like PR and stuff where creativity is more obvious.
we're one of the most exciting industries! the whole creative process of how you create something and push it out there is incredible.
there is something really sexy about developing.
you can go out there and do stuff that's absolutely astonishing.

one study said that women ? [nb: lost text]
women just don't know what startups are - what is high tech - that is the main problem - the lack of knowledge about our sector - each time i meet a young girl in my family i say to go work for a startup rather than an established company with very masculine codes. in startups it is easier to be a woman, but if women don't know that, it's impossible to attract women - the main thing is to spread the word around you to make them understand it's nice and sexy to work with programmers all around you!

do we have a guy who can come up?
milo from the telegraph
i'm slightly uncomfortable with this discussion - i don't think this is quite the way to approach this problem - having come from an environment like law, finance, i think women have quite a good deal in tech. in asking why women aren't involved in tech at a certain level - we need to be quite careful not to engineer a game where essentially what we are doing is to worsen the issue.

what needs to be done?

what we need is a large, systematic study on the problem like what zuzanna has started. what we need to do is have a serious study looking at the actual truth of why women aren't in tech and we are tiptoeing around each other and i haven't seen facts till today.

so you want numbers?

we need some serious research done.

what you are describing is how men are different from women. how is research going to change any of that?

if it's reasonably true that women in technology are facing these issues we need to be careful about apologising for that.

do you mean research about why women should have voting rights?

he works for the daily telegraph of course he doesn't get it.

i find it really interesting that 3 out of 5 women have said they are looking at reports being done but then only when a man comes up does he ask for research.
setting up a company in technology is just like setting up a company in any sector - leisa made a very important point, if you don't count yourself as technology how are you going to be visible - how to take that forwards - another thing is that a lot of people who start up companies in tech don't have a background in it - they just have insight and intelligence and have skills to lead something.

this discards a lot of the other factors involved - i have a 15 month old son and i run my own business but there is no way i could engage in a lifestyle where i don't have time to sleep, which is what i hear from a lot of tech startups.

that is based on an assumption that men don't make sacrifices when they work a 22 hour day.

you have lost the plot

i don't think it's fair to suggest that men haven't made sacrifices.

if you are creating an environment where you need to work 22 hour days then that discludes a lot of people including men, yes.

simone from The Next Women
the statistics aren't totally right; the growth of women starting companies is much bigger than it has been before.
hurdles are that they are not getting investment. another hurdle is that women aren't exactly wanting high growth business. that has nothing to do with whether women have children or not.
women leading high growth businesses are no different from men leading high growth businesses - one of the biggest issues is the lack of funding to get there.

two big points. first you started off saying that women experience a lot of isolation but a lot of men do too - that is probably why men go into the industry! the more serious point is, so long as at least 50% of the market for tech products is female than women will have a more crucial role for parlaying the technology for that market. if you are saying women can't get into the industry surely it must come from there.

we did some research saying more women are on social networks. and companies that code for what women want, do better.

another point is that solutions are developed by men and not women.

so a solution is to have more women involved in coding and development?

milo came into this panel with the concept of positive discrimination burning in his ears.
we all think this is a business for women - we are here - there is a reason for it - there are a hell of a lot of jobs here - maybe its about getting the message out.
if you are working in tech marketing particularly in social media, you're in tech.

mike butcher
women in PR in tech are sometimes not considered in tech which is really weird because they are in tech!

i started a company in 99 (a woman) and one of the reasons i'm in this industry is because it's so liberal and i have 2 kids. a lot of it is about perception of women of whether or not this is of interest to them.
it's more about what we perceive. maybe we are stopping ourselves!

it's women begin seen to do it as well.
i'd like to ask advice - i have 2 girls at 9 years old. it is already obvious that the environment around our daughter isn't really well suited for girls to get into maths - already, in primary school, girls are being put in an environment where they aren't being asked to succeed in this way

did you raise her differently?

we were very conscious not to just give her dolls and give her cars, toys for boys etc

i think there is this appearance thing - girls are primed to look good at such a young age, when i was young i was wearing track suits and covered in mud but today girls wear bras at 5
media - getting positive role models out there - this is part of it.

hermoine way, techfluff TV
technology is still seen as uncool for girls - we need to be showing them what can be achieved through studying tech

yes, and save the sexy stuff for later.

i don't think we need to beat ourselves as to why the genre in our industry is unbalanced. haute couture is only women and gay men. if you want to get your boyfriend into Vogue you are done. many sectors have these unbalances. when i started a company in tech everyone thought, 'who is this bitch?'

we wouldn't be having this discussion in India today - women are in technology there.

what do you think you are doing in india that we are not doing?

education and perceptions of what is good for women.

we are seeing a lot of women recruited into startups in round two. we are seeing at an early stage it is a more testosterone-driven team and then females get involved later.

bindi from microsoft
listening to this discussion, it's really about us as females in tech and what we do. i can think about an initiative we host where we bring girls, 250 per quarter into these sessions called girls in tech. i really think it's up to us as females to get involved in mentoring younger generations.

we are startups! we don't listen to rules, we write the rules! why don't we just get on with it?

that is a great thing about technology. it's new, it's fresh.

and yet 40% of people who responded to my survey said that they would not employ a woman because they would be concerned about her going off on maternity leave. maybe these people don't attend conferences.

james garner CW.com
we have done loads of research - there are less women in tech!

we didn't come up with any solutions but it was silly of me to think we could agree a solution when we can't agree there is a problem! thanks everyone.


Did Surallan fire the worst of a bad bunch?

Being big, no huge, TV fans here at Re:medial we felt it only fitting to provide a little analysis of the debacle of last night's UK Apprentice. For those unfamiliar, this show is brilliant television and much, much better than its US ancestor. Sir Alan Sugar and his counterparts Nick and Margaret are some of the best TV personalities to erupt on the small screen.

But last night I think Surallan made an error which he seems to make a lot - he blamed the project leader for the whole debacle. The freckly girl with kinky hair was a decent enough team leader, and she (Paula) was responsible for a nicely turned out product, however she pointed the 'costings' blame squarely on Ben and Yasmina. How on earth it's a good idea to put two people in charge of simple math, I've no idea. And this turned out to be her fatal error; Ben got off the hook by not really being responsible for making the ridiculous £700 per kilo versus £26 per kilo error (plus he DID pull his socks up during the sales bit and adds a welcome bit of humour to the sordid lot) and Yasmina was weaselly enough in the boardroom to point all the blame at her team leader even though she was clearly the one who made the critical math error.

Surallan often blames the project leader for big mistakes. In this case, I think he should have overlooked the damage to his pride that Paula's team had made a loss, and fired Yasmina for being generally sneaky and error-prone. But the team leader simply shifted responsibility, and didn't take on any proper delegation to ensure the roles would work out, and for that reason he ultimately felt she needed to go.

Paula didn't even see through Yasmina's BS and went on to say she should win it in her taxi ride. This I don't get.

In general, show producers really scraped the bottom of the barrel for candidates this season and alas we wind up with such atrocious outcomes as making a loss on a task as simple as soap making (with a bunch of experts on hand to tell you how to do it and completely free ingredients available such as 3 overflowing buckets [er, 300 grams] of seaweed).

God help Surallan this season..... he's got his work cut out for him.


Ten Commandments of Pitching

Lessons for the unenlightened – and there are plenty in PR because middle and senior management typically don’t (a) invest enough time in training and (b) lead by example - thou shalt NOT:

1) Ask the journalist if he’s going to publish you client’s comment. It makes him/her not want to
2) Request the journalist flag coverage to you. It’s YOUR job to media monitor
3) Commit the old chestnut and call to see if a journalist got your email
4) Call a hack’s mobile first – always go with the landline as first point of contact, it means the journalist is not in the middle of something else
5) Miss a journalist’s deadline – not without at least giving good advance notice
6) Leave incredibly long voicemails. It’s bad form in life in general, but especially when calling the press. They don’t listen to them so you’re wasting your breath and your time
7) Give the journalist the opposite of what s/he wants (see this post for more…)
8) Commit a newbie junior to the phone. Would you trust your brand to someone with little sales experience and even less grasp on technology?
9) Drown journalists with (often untrue) marketing cliché. Read this blog on best practice
10) EVER EVER E-V-E-R ask - as someone did to me recently - "what publication this is for"...need I say more?

What do you think PRs should avoid doing when pitching?


A Survey Too Far?

Journalists often moan about the plethora of surveys and spin-led stories they receive, yet two wonderfully effective publicity stunts hit the headlines this week. For me, as someone inside the industry, however, they’ve got my goat a little.

Firstly, let’s look at a hotel chain's survey into the British attitudes the countryside. Surveys are always a plum way to get coverage, especially if there’s a stupefying ‘fact’ to lead it. In this case, that ‘one in ten Britons can’t recognise a sheep’.

PUR-LEEASE! Just who were interviewed - scarecrows? When you’re a child sheep are one of the first animals you learn to identify along with dogs, cats and cows. Old McDonald etc etc. Effective as it was – and you should never underestimate how stupid some people are – endless surveys about how thick we are in this country can’t surely be accurate.

Having said that, BBC Radio 5Live ran a story on it and asked for pictures, carrying my shot from the Lake District, which I submitted (pictured).

The other one, which I’ve blogged about before on my personal blog is the Australian state of Queensland’s very effective bid to have the Great Barrier Reef beamed into homes around the world with their ‘appeal’ for an island caretaker at a figure three times the average salary in Australia. Blatant, but effective. I reckon they’ll give the job to an American. They need to break that market (you don’t meet many in Queensland) while they can take Brit backpackers for granted. The shortlisted Kiwi can forget all about winning. I’ll eat my hat the day an Aussie awards a victory to New Zealand!


Credit crunch aftermath: longer queues

We're really lucky here at Hatch PR to still have jobs despite the recession. I feel grateful for that every single day. The credit crunch hasn't impacted me or my close colleagues in any extremely nasty ways unlike a lot of people who are really struggling right now. But now that things seem to have bottomed out (or, one can at least hope) I'm starting to notice the little annoying after effects that make day-to-day life run a lot less smoothly.

And that can be summed up in two words: longer queues.

As companies have dealt with the recession by cost-cutting, that sadly means cutting staff. In my opinion, a lot of enterprises have done the most vulgar thing imaginable and used the recession as an excuse to make lay-offs they didn't want to risk the negative PR for before. I hate that. But the bottom line is that not only are people losing their jobs but organisations aren't running very smoothly without adequate manpower.

I went to the Birmingham airport the other day, on a random Thursday morning (not a holiday weekend or anything) and the queues at every turn were absolutely massive. That's also true of New Street station, which we travelled through, too. We nearly missed our flight even though we got there with what should have been enough time. My local Cafe Nero had queues out the door yesterday at 10:30 am. We got sandwiches at Subway and there was one poor guy working along during the lunch rush and looking extremely stressed over the thought of another 6 inch cheese & veg.

In short, everything feels like it's bursting at the seams as organisations think they can get away with having just one sole employee behind the counter.

Note to airports, train stations and High Street shops: expecting one employee to be able to deal with trade during busy times is nothing short of stupid. You need to retain customers, not turn them away, at this most crucial of times.


Breaking News: All G20 Meetings Scheduled Via Doodle, Says Doodle

All G20 Meetings Scheduled Via Doodle, Says Doodle

--World leaders highly recommend online scheduling tool, discussing it over morning coffee--

1 April, 2009 – London and Zurich – Doodle, the popular Web 2.0 scheduling tool, is proud to announce all G20 meetings amongst the leaders of the largest 20 economies on the planet have been scheduled via Doodle. During today's morning coffee at Downing Street, world leaders chatted about how much time they saved by scheduling their meetings via Doodle.

President Barack Obama, known for taking things into his own hands, is reputed to have started the first Doodle meeting request. First, he needed to select a date for the conference itself. He offered several dates, including today 1st April and 8th April, creating the Doodle meeting request and emailing it to other world leaders such as Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown and Angela Merkel. The covering email to the UK Prime Minister is reported to have read 'Hey, Gordy, can you check the time you're free and fire this back to me? Thanks, Barack.'

Aides close to President Obama also indicated his covering email ended with a post script saying, "PS: If the conference is held on April 1st, Michelle and I aren't really going to attend, we'll just send 3D virtual avatars of ourselves. Ha! Gotcha!"

Michael Näf, founder and CEO of Doodle, said, "If Doodle is good enough for the world's leaders, it's good enough for you! Get Doodling."

- Ends -