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In praise of free-dom

28 Nov

Free markets work because of the profit motive. But there’s true freedom in exchanges that aren’t governed by big organisations or money:

  • Freelances are free from a single boss and a rigid routine
  • Open source software is given freely – for the good of it
  • Most bloggers are making a free contribution, without any immediate payback
  • My students give some of their time and energy in order to gain work experience
  • Voluntary work is usually a win-win-win situation
  • A town in Devon is pioneering a community currency to encourage local exchanges
  • No one I have approached to contribute in some way to Behind the Spin magazine has said ‘no’, and there’s no money on the table (yet)

The most compelling argument in Naomi Klein’s No Logo (2001) is of the privatisation of the public sphere. But it seems that there’s life in the public, voluntary and community sphere.

Whose week is it anyway?

12 Nov

Sometimes the morning news does up mash up in my mind. Is it Get Safe Online week? Or is it Enterprise Week? The answer to both is ‘yes’.

But there are moments of early morning clarity. The Galileo v GPS debate didn’t answer the key question. Why would anyone pay billions for something that’s available now, works and is free? It reminded me of the plans to take on Google with a European search engine, Quaero. What became of Quaero? It was supposed to launch last year… I think I can guess the answer.

In my back yard

3 Nov

Wind_farm_2 This is the view from my front doorstep this morning (click to enlarge image).

I welcomed the plans to build a windfarm nearby, on the edge of the Nidderdale AONB. Who can object to windfarms when the alternatives are more conventional or nuclear powerstations?

But now the first turbine has been constructed I’m surprised that it’s so visible from where I live and from the surrounding countryside. But then windfarms require windy upland locations. I’m hoping that when finished and operational it will add a picturesque focus to the head of the valley.

NIMBYs are easily mocked, but they shouldn’t be dismissed. The National Trust has joined battle over government house building plans in a move that could gain it much support from ‘middle England’. And this is an organisation that already has 3.5 million members. Compare that to Labour Party membership, which appears to be below 200,000.

Windfarn2_2 UPDATE: One week on, the wind farm is emerging on the horizon. Light angelic mills?

Love it or loathe it

16 Oct

I’ve always liked ‘word of mouth’ as a description. (I once hoped to register wordofmouth.co.uk for my freelance business only to find that this domain name had already been snapped up.)

Others are suspicous of the phrase, fearing a loss of message control and doubting whether it can ever be practised ethically when used for marketing purposes.

So we have something powerful, rather ill-defined and in need of best practice guidelines. Sounds a bit like public relations… What we need is an industry association to show leadership. So I’m behind the new Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOM UK) which is being launched today at the Marketing Week word of mouth conference. It follows on from the well-established Word of Mouth Marketing Association in the US.

The ubiquitous Stuart Bruce is involved, which bodes well. My only quibble: that this shouldn’t just be about marketing. Its remit should also cover conversations, participation and democracry – the whole of the public sphere (the space in which public relations operates). I find the thought of a marketing sphere depressing, and not just because I’m reading JG Ballard’s bleak new novel, Kingdom Come.

Awareness, campaign, action

28 Sep

Raising awareness, gathering support and generating activity are the purposes of many public campaigns. There’s nothing new in this.

But the speed and international spread of the Facebook group Support the Monks’ protest in Burma does suggest a new departure. 90,000 supporters within a week and growing fast. (It’s a timely reminder after a few bad weeks in the press that Facebook users are not only interested in ephemera and ‘me me me’.)

Of course, joining a Facebook group is easy; doing something, sustaining a campaign and making a difference are harder tests.

One day in history

17 Oct

History Matters campaigns to raise awareness of history in everyday lives. Today there’s an attempt to create the ‘biggest blog’ in history.

I’m a two-times history graduate, a one-time history teacher, and a PR lecturer who frequently draws examples from history. Here are some examples of what history means to me today:

  • I saw Alan Bennet’s The History Boys on stage in Bradford recently (a Yorkshire venue is appropriate to the author and the subject), though I haven’t yet seen the film. The play was sure to appeal to me (given my potted biography above), but has been a huge hit on stage in New York before being filmed. Now it seems everyone’s interested in history and in education – not just me.
  • I used to teach ‘new media’ from the perspective that technological developments were new. Then I reminded myself that to an 18 year-old school leaver the web has existed all their conscious lives. Google (founded in 1999) is now a middle-aged company. ‘New’ isn’t always so new as we think.
  • Last month, I went for lunch to celebrate my Cambridge history tutor’s 30 years in the same job. Will any of my students remember me in 30 years? Will any of us still be remembered three generations from now?
  • A PR student spoke to me today very about her conversion to Islam. I’m not religious, but can understand how comforting it must be to be (or become) part of a continuous tradition dating back millennia. A business student I teach is building a new life in Britain having grown up in Baghdad: a reminder that history is being made today; it’s not confined to the past.
  • If journalism is the ‘first draft of history’, then public relations sources will become footnotes to history.

A defining question

24 Sep

Open day attendees yesterday left my session with unanswered questions about the distinction between public relations and marketing (my faculty offers both degree courses, and a marketing lecturer colleague was to follow my talk so I had to choose my words with care).

I often turn to public affairs or not-for-profit campaigns for illumination of the distinction. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth provides a good case. His campaign to raise awareness of climate change is undoubtedly public relations; yet it has nothing to do with marketing (I doubt that the commercial success of the movie is uppermost in his mind).

These were the defining qualities of this movie as public relations. It is:

  • Polemical: he challenges his critics, is able to depict the ‘bad guys’, while forcefully making his own case;
  • Persuasive: there’s no lack of numerical and scientific evidence;
  • Personal: We can see why the 2000 US election result still hurts him; his sister’s death from lung cancer allows him to draw parallels from past attempts to deny the evidence of tobacco’s harm; but I couldn’t see why his son’s injury was included here.

Marketing may have its 4 Ps; here are my 3 Ps for public campaigns (essentially the same as ethos, logos, pathos).