Post 45:08 My $0.05 on Bill Henson

Every so often, society gets its knickers in a twist and indulges in an orgy of moral panic.

Hence the current Bill Henson mess.

Here’s what I reckon we should do.

If you have ever taken photos of kids in the bath or on the beach, shot a snap of your kids innocently vamping it up in an age-inappropriate costume or watched Blue Water High without wondering why the national broadcaster has made a show about buff teenagers in bikinis, take yourself to the nearest police station and demand to be charged with whatever it is one can be charged with for putting kids in a context where it might be possible for someone to imagine that you were potentially contemplating sex.

I suggest you turn yourself in because if you have done any of these things you are, quite obviously, a step away from the kind of depravity that our child protection laws are actually designed to prevent.

So turn yourself in and let’s see what happens when the courts have a few hundred of these absurd cases to deal with.

Maybe that will make the point that edgy, disturbing, art is nowhere near as dangerous as closed minds.

Post 44:08 PR-ing bloggers vs. grass roots sponsorship (With an update!)

I’ve known for a while that PRs target bloggers.

Now I have seen it at work and reaction to it among members of the bicycle club of which I am a member.

One of the members of the club runs a blog that mentions his cycling exploits, and received an email from a PR to this effect:

I work on behalf of [an energy drink] . I came across your blog when searching for Australian blogs that focus on sport and noticed you’re a keen cyclist.

We recently launched [new energy drink products].

We would like to know if you would be interested in receiving some free product … to help you reach your cycling goals. Please note that this is a gift, [Energy Drink company] do not expect you to write or comment on the product but given your interest in sport would like you to sample the new products. However, if you do chose to write something, we ask that disclose that [Energy Drink company] provided the product sample as a gift. “

Reaction to this offer on the forum has been interesting.

The recipient of the offer decided to ignore it, thinking it was an imposition. unwelcome intrusion.

A couple of folks declared it Spam.

Another couple said “Cool! Free stuff!”

One said that it is a cynical ploy he finds distasteful and that a better idea would be to sponsor grass roots sporting organisations, which would create more goodwill.

My reaction? I can imagine this is quite effective, although risky if a blogger/rider feels the drink did not help their performance.

If can also imagine a rider shows up to a bunch ride with a few bottles of this stuff, there will be a lot of talk about it during the ride and it could spark other riders to try it.

But that is where it gets cynical, for me. Instead of sending out a few bottles of this stuff, why not actually help out the grass roots? Our club could use a sponsor. Even $500 would make a difference.

By the time the PR has couriered the drink into their offices, couriered it out to the blogger and charged their hourly rate for the whole exercise, I reckon a $500 bill is not far fetched.

If a brand simply handed over $500 and some branded goodies (cyclists often wear bandannas under their helmets, to soak up sweat and I cannot imagine those cost a whole lot to make) it would make the whole club more disposed to try their goods, and possibly also more disposed to use them in the long term. And seeing as most clubs have online presences, including forums, I think the $500 could go a lot further used in this way because it would expose the brand to enthusiasts for a longer period, rather than just in a single blog post!

UPDATE

Today I checked my Hotmail account, something I do only once or twice a month.

I got the energy drink offer too!

I have emailed the PR concerned and asked if my club can get sponsorship instead of energy drink, disclosed this post and my role as a journalist who grazes on this space.

Let’s see what happens next!

Post 43:08 One of the weirdest PR tactics I have ever encountered

I received a mail last week from a vendor, which let me know that in the near future it will release a preview of a soon-to-be-released product.

The email offered me the chance to register to be told when the preview of the product will become available.

And that was it. Links in the mail sent me to some web pages containing information about the soon-to-be released product, plus a link to a press release announcing the imminent preview.

To me, this was just another shoddy way of trying to get me to read press releases, so I replied with my usual request to be spared further such missives.

This sparked a reply from the vendor’s PR, in which they said they find it hard to communicate with me.

Thing is, there was basically no news whatsoever in this. Being told I have the chance to register for a future pre-release download seems to me to be wasting everyone’s time. Why not just tell me when the download is available and save the time of letting me know about the registration period?

Post 42:08 I’m clean!

In the last few weeks, I have made some big declarations.

To become a junior soccer team manager, I have had to sign my life away as never, ever, ever having anything to do with child sex offences, offenders, offers or anything. Otherwise I can be carted off to chokey for so much as showing up to training.

To attain a cycling license I have had to declare myself free of performance-enhancing drugs and make it plain that The Authorities can test me for them anytime, anywhere.

Long story short, I am completely, utterly clean on both counts. Always have been. Now it’s official.

Post 41:08 Email is a great PR tool …

PR: Here’s a dazzlingly important piece of information you should act on …. FAST!

Me: I could be vaguely interested.

PR: I am out of the office returning next week sometime (and therefore only able to respond in a manner that is not timely and therefore renders my previous offer to you a total dud).

Okay … the bit in italics isn’t in the out of office message. But it should be.

UPDATE:

Email from PR: Come to an event, please.

Me: (Thinks: Hmmmm … does this invitation have a date on it? Or a location? I’m reading really, really carefully … hmmm … there’s a contact for the PR on it. Maybe it’s one of those things where they want to get early numbers before they tell you where it is. So let me call the PR.)

Hi … PR? I’m well, thanks. Where and when is your event?

PR: Ummm … it’s on the invitation.

Me: Not that I can see.

PR: It’s on the 28th.

Me: (Searches the email for the number or wording for 28 ) Umm … No it isn’t.

PR: Can I use the F-word?

Me: I have no objections.

PR: F. F. F. F-ity-F! Do you know how many people approved this invitation?

No I don’t.

ANOTHER UPDATE!

For another doozy, that goes like this.

Mail from PR: Simon, can you tell me something.

Me: (About five minutes later) Yeah sure, here we go …

Mail from PR: I am not in the office …

Sure, Out of Office is good. But in the middle of a conversation? Pffft!

Post 40:08 Tabloid broadsheets and public broadcasting

There’s a fair bit of noise around at the moment about how established, quality media outlets conduct themselves online. Crikey and Media Watch have both had a go in the last few days, targeting SMH.com.au. By total coincidence, the Crikey piece seems to have been written at almost the same time as I Tweeted my surprise about the current content of SMH.com.au.

My second Tweet on the subject was a very early thought on the issues here.

For me, they revolve around brand. The Sydney Morning Herald projects itself as a serious, considered newspaper that people who live in Sydney need to read to understand the life of the city (and therefore the world) they inhabit and the ideas, events and forces that are making it tick. That brand promise is not, however, expressed as well online, where stories about all manner of events are more prominent.

The mismatch between the established values of the newspaper and the very different values of the website are bound to rankle many readers. I think that a subtle re-branding of online to set different expectations could work wonders.

Reaching that conclusion also got me thinking about what happens when and/or if the content that sells comes to dominate the print version of the Herald, a scenario suggested in the Media Watch piece.

If this nasty outcome eventuates, I think the role of public broadcasting will become even more important, as only outlets that are not beholden to page impression-driven thinking will be able to contemplate what we now call “quality news.” Of course we will all be poorer if only public broadcasters even make the attempt, or if they do not get the funding to do so.

The funding issue is often put down to the fact that governments of all stripes think the ABC is biased against them. I find that natural, in a weird way. Even Labor governments, after all, are basically dominated by capitalist and monotheist discourses. Those are almost impossible to analyse from the right, because they are OF the right, in my opinion, leaving most journalism easily perceived as carrying a left bias. But that’s a thought for another day ….

Post 39:08 What’s the story?

I keep having weird exchanges with PRs at the moment.

They start like this:

PR: Would you like to interview my client, who sells [insert category of product] and want to talk about why it is terribly important in the context of some big meme [like green IT].

My reply is nearly always:

Why is this terribly important?

To which PRs respond:

Because they sell things that help with [big meme].

Long experience of dull interviews with little news value leads me to believe that most of the time the vendor concerned is either:

  • Late to the party on [big meme] and playing catchup
  • Bandwagoning
  • Re-branding their previous position to take [big meme] into account
  • All of the above

Nonetheless, I worry that I am, sometimes, missing out on a chat that could enlighten or educate me (even though I expect tedious key messages)

How to get me enthused about actually conducting the interview? Personalise the pitch. Make an argument about a story, instead of just saying [big meme] is very important and we have an analyst who agrees. Name the publication you think the story belongs in. Go beyond the meme to actually explain how what you do is different, better and represents unusual insight into the issues at hand, rather than just saying your client is clever and keen.

Weirdly enough, I’m seeing this kind of (good) stuff mostly directed at my SmartCall podcast, the newest of  all my gigs. But most of the time, the pitches are terribly bland.

Post 38:08 Twitter is granular, social presence

I love Twitter. I use it all day.

Right now, Twitter is even kind of hot, despite the fact that its founders seem to have no plan for it to actually make money.

In this video, however, Twitter founder Biz Stone (what a great name) hints that when Twitter becomes a “global utility,” money will arrive.

Which got me thinking, what kind of utility is Twitter, given that it is usually characterised as a micro-blogging platform.

After a couple of weeks thinking, I think I have an answer: Twitter is a Presence utility.

Presence is a pretty over-hyped concept. For anyone who’s not familiar with it, the basic concept of Presence is visible in Instant Messenger’s Status settings that let you be available to receive messages or not. Presence in these applications has a few levels: you can be there or not, or various degrees of not. You can set Presence manually or sometimes the computer interprets your behaviour and changes settings accordingly.

Presence is now busting out into the corporate world, where it is touted as a hot feature of VoIP systems as it allows workers to understand the status of their co-workers. The big benefit is supposed to be that you can see if someone is at their desk or on their mobile, rather than calling them and going into call-forwarding hell or voice mail. In practice, most people I know find that setting their presence to ‘Away’ is simply the best idea, because the presence settings are insufficiently granular to stop them getting calls in the car or some other place where they are not really ready to work or talk.

Which brings me back to Twitter, which I think offers very granular indications of Presence – if there is a social relationship in place!

I’m immodest enough to think that some of my own tweets illustrate how.

In this one I’m saying “I just read this and was offended by it, what do you think,” inviting conversation.

Here I am shouting out out to my friends.

A locative tweet, telling people where I am. The subtext is that as I am with kids, outdoors, I am less able to communicate.

I’m pissed off here and if you know the brand name mentioned, you can understand that I am doing my own tech support and therefore have little bandwidth.

This kind of information is far, far more than is ever revealed by other Presence-enabled applications I have encountered. I think it is therefore a more valuable form of Presence and therefore gives Twitter the chance of becoming a global social Presence utility.

Whether or not there is a buck in that, I have no idea. But as you’ll hear about ten minutes into this podcast, folks like Oracle already think that adding social information to CRM. That indicates to me that users are creating valuable information. Now to monetise it which, frankly, sounds like fun. If someone can pay me to Tweet, count me in!