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Prediction: 2010 will be the year of the blog

22 Dec

IainDale'sDiary You might think I'm five years behind the times, but the impact of technology is not linear, nor is it always predictable.

The Economist tells how commentators predicted in the 1840s that the telegraph would challenge newspapers. Instead, faster transmittal of news led to the era of the great newspapers.

Today, newspapers face bankruptcy. As The Economist article concludes:

The internet may kill newspapers; but it is not clear if that matters. For society, what matters is that people should have access to news, not that it should be delivered through any particular medium.

So we don't have a crisis of news; we have a crisis of news distribution and the need for a viable business model.

Here's my thinking about blogs. The first phase, championed by Blogger, Typepad and others enabled easy personal publishing. Yet growth in and buzz around personal blogs slowed as first social networks (like Facebook) and then microblogging (Twitter) satisfied most people's needs for expression and interaction.

Blogging hasn't gone away, but it has become less visible as the early adopters have been exploring new new tools. Yet quietly, this personal publishing platform has been developing into professional publishing. Open-source WordPress has been leading the way in this, as personal blogs give way to group blogs and sophisticated content management systems.

This development should not be surprising as it has a precedent. Newspapers emerged from the explosion of pamphlets enabled by the printing press (a disruptive technology in its day). At first, these pamphlets were personal and amateurish; in time, they became more professional and evolved into the newspapers whose names we're still familiar with.

So, in predicting that 2010 will be the year of the blog, it's not personal, amateur blogs that I have in mind. It's well-researched, professional blogs in specialist niches such as politics and business. The UK general election campaign will provide a local boost to the political blogs, and the challenge of the recession will boost the adoption of low-cost approaches to marketing and communications.

There's another factor in this trend. For many individuals, social networks and Twitter are alternatives to blogging. For the more professional bloggers, these networks provide valuable 'push' channels for attracting readers and encouraging the creation of communities of interest.

We've long been familiar with the role of the public relations practitioner as content creator. There's work here for those who are far-sighted enough to establish strategies and rationales for blogging engagement along with robust systems for writing, editing and moderation, while avoiding the obvious pitfalls of ghost-writing and the constant conflict between transparency and disclosure.

Then there's the emergence of a new role: the public relations practitioner as community engagement manager (with a blog one possible hub for the community).

PR and the media (latest from the US)

13 Jul

Here are three observations on contemporary public relations from a media perspective (most positive first):

  1. The Power and the Story: Michael Wolff's analysis in Vanity Fair of President Obama's powerful media operation. (Note the difference in style between a magazine and a blog: there's a 76-word sentence containing no fewer than nine commas here. But don't let that put you off reading this elegant article.)
  2. Spinning the Web: PR in Silicon Valley: New York Times business section (and note Richard Edelman's scathing reaction to this exercise in self-promotion).
  3. PR Girls Who Don't Know Where Darfur Is Bask in Bruno Press Blitz: New York Times fashion section (via PROpenMic). Nuff said, probably, though there's already a tribute blog – Hot Twin PR

What are we to make of this? In brief, it shows the problem of simplifying an activity that spans political and technology communications and also includes celebrity publicity. But I suspect it also shows something of an east coast, west coast divide in the US. Here in the UK, Max Clifford, Matthew Freud, Alan Parker and Roland Rudd all work in London (see post below) – a political, financial and media hub.

Dirty tricks and special advisers

14 Apr

A political PR story has people talking. I'll limit myself to four observations:

  1. The blogging dimension has been overstated. Political PR has often been conducted through leaks (known as non-attributable briefings), so there's nothing fundamentally new in the use of blogs to disseminate (mis)information. What's new in that blogging appears to favour opposition voices in a more pronounced way than happens with the traditional media, hence the desperate tactics from government advisers that have been exposed by this story.
  2. It's a truism that Conservative politicians are vulnerable to sex scandals while Labour politicians are vulnerable over money. In a recession, the public seems more shocked by stories of bath plugs on expenses than allegations of sexual misconduct.
  3. There are rules governing the party political activities of civil servants. Why not enforce the existing rules before rushing to create new ones?
  4. There are such strong practical grounds for rejecting dirty tricks campaigns that we don't even need to start discussing principles. 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.' There is a danger that no normal people will choose to enter political life, knowing the scrutiny it will bring on their families and on their past lives. David Cameron was right to refuse to give a direct answer to the question about drugs; public figures deserve some privacy. Besides, what's the point of principles if we don't stand by them? Sure, it's wrong to lie… Except when lying, even black propaganda, is the lesser of two evils – as was surely the case with the wartime Special Operations Executive. So let's stick to the practical point: dirty tricks campaigns are wrong because they're so often ineffectice and counter-productive. 

Surprisingly, the business world appears in this regard to be a more genteel place than politics. I suspect this is because in business there's very rarely a simple binary choice as there so often is in democratic politics. And the principle of denying your competitors free publicity means that direct attacks tend not to be used.

In reality, politicians have much in common with each other and often behave with remarkable restraint and dignity. For me, the highlight of the US presidential election did not directly involve the successful candidate. In a campaign walkabout, John McCain was approached by a woman who suggested that Barack Obama did not deserve support because he was an Arab. 'No ma'am, he is a decent family man and citizen.' The right thing to do (in terms of winning) might have involved playing the race card; McCain did the right thing for democratic politics.


13 Nov

John Harris has written an extended feature on Matthew Freud’s connections to the worlds of politics, media and celebrity. It reads rather like an appendix to Miller and Dinan’s A Century of Spin: the author can’t quite pin his subject down, but clearly senses there’s something wrong in someone having this much influence.

Having a famous great-grandfather, being the son of well-known MP and broadcaster, having Rupert Murdoch as father-in-law must confer advantages. I suspect it encouraged him to take risks, because you can see Freud’s progress as an entrepreneurial success story – how someone who did not go to university built a business and became connected to the most powerful people in the country. He’s earned the money he’s spending on private jets and lavish parties, though John Harris sees him as the Great Gatsby of our age.


5 Nov

Faced with a financial crisis and with growing cynicism about party politics, we needed this. The US election campaign has been compelling, dignified and engaging.

That both candidates for president were to some extent outsiders has helped. As commentators have pointed out, president-elect Obama has defeated in turn the two most powerful political machines in the US: the Clintons and the Republicans.

Of course, money still talks. But Obama has raised the money he’s spent, mostly from small donations. His victory shows the groundswell in action, as well as reminding us of the power of rhetoric to effect change.

Peter’s friends

22 Oct

For me, the most interesting narrative – the only interesting narrative – of the story concerning George Osborne, Peter Mandelson, Oleg Deripaska and Nat Rothschild is this: Don’t mess with Mandelson.

It appears to be his revenge for the leaked private conversation from a Corfu taverna that caused embarrassment when he was recalled to the UK government. That’s certainly the angle taken by the Daily Mail. In revenge, Mandelson – through friends – has turned the news spotlight on George Osborne.

I don’t expect this story to run and run, though the BBC’s Nick Robinson thinks it may still have legs. At times in the last 24 hours, it has seemed this is the biggest story on the BBC since the Large Bank-run Collider.

For students who may not recall his earlier role in the creation of New Labour, the noble lord is sometimes viewed as a ‘prince of darkness’ – a modern Machiavelli.

The honourable gentleman is . . . a spin doctor

25 Feb

What do you do if you unwittingly mislead the press based on the information you’ve been given?

If you’re senior government communicator Mike Granatt, you resign.

The moral dimension of political PR has never been better dissected than in Spin Cycle by Howard Kurtz, a book about Bill Clinton’s White House propaganda machine. His spokesperson Mike McCurry managed to retain his reputation for honesty and openness in the face of daily inquisition by the media. At times he only achieved this by avoiding asking direct questions of his boss.