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Friday TechMunch: Greed and Gullibility – Consumers, Blockbuster and Familiar Mistakes

Contributed by Niamh Kinsella

Look at the business pages of any major newspaper and you’ll notice that some of the most exciting and fast-growth companies in the world right now are those disrupting the service sector. Hailo, JustEat, Netflix, Uber, AirBnB – they’re carving out enormous market share across the hospitality, travel, entertainment and transportation sectors at a speed unlike anything we’ve seen before.

The reason for their success? They beat the competition to the punch with technology.

Consider the demise of companies like Blockbuster compared to the rise of Netflix. It was a global business with huge revenues that was ingrained in Western culture for decades, and yet within the space of five years it all but disappeared, whereas Netflix – which has not a single physical store – had 1.5 million new signups in the UK alone in 2014 and is now used by 1 in 10 British households.

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In a similar story, the highly successful AirBnB – which owns no hotels – is currently subject to scrutiny in major cities like Los Angeles, Sydney and New York, the regulators of which say the site and its users have impacted the price of rent. The very idea of a single website impacting the housing markets of multiple major cities around the world still seems unbelievable, and while there’s seems to be some justification there, it has done little to stop people embracing the concept. The top 10 cities on Airbnb all have at least 10,000 listings, with Paris topping the list with more than 46,000 rooms for rent in the French capital. The wider impact of this has many factors – 46,000 fewer rooms for permanent residents would pose a real housing challenge, and tens of thousands of vacancies in hotels across a capitol city would hurt the profitability of traditional accommodation businesses. It’s difficult to say what will happen next, but the solution will need to address problems across both sectors and the traditional hotel and travel bookers will need to think long and hard about what can be done to compete with Airbnb’s pace of innovation.

HBO is another iconic brand that could one day become victim to Blockbuster’s mistakes of not innovating quickly enough. Their chief executive was recently asked his thoughts on Game of Thrones (unavailable to stream by subscription anywhere but the US) being the most illegally pirated show on the planet, with 1.5 million downloads of the first episode of the latest season – breaking all current records. Rather than expressing frustration at the loss of all that potential profit, he considered it a natural loss given the sophistication of online piracy and lack of availability of the show by subscription in international markets. Ultimately, he said, piracy had served to raise the profile of HBO and had no negative impact on the bottom line. While that could indeed be true, the decision by consumers to go elsewhere when their need for content wasn’t being met may hurt them in the long term.

A bit like Veruca Salt from the 1970’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, what all of these examples tell us is that consumers want their services smooth and they want them now. Without a thought of brand loyalty and legacy, they will choose whichever company or competitor that gives them what they want with the most ease and immediacy. In the real world, there are no punishments at the end of our musical numbers for being greedy, just technology companies that crack the formula for a service before everyone else, and then promptly gobble up market share.

Veruca Salts of the world rejoice.

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Nurturing Talent In The PR Industry

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I was really pleased to judge the PR Week 30 under 30 this week and very happy that FH had two winners – the amazing Liz Mercer in our Tech team and Chris Onderstall from the Creative Strategy group.  Both are amazing talents and were up against some very impressive competition from across the sector.  Nurturing young talent is a real challenge for all of us in the PR agency sector and our current crop at FH are exceptionally strong.  All of this got me thinking about what I really value in young talent – perhaps all talent – in our industry.

For me there are three major things.  The first is self-starting capability.  We can provide all the training in the world (and we do!) but it is very difficult to teach people how to be entrepreneurial, to take decisions, to have initiative and to act rather than to be told what to do.  Across all the agencies I have worked with, there is a consistent truth that the people who take initiative are the ones that are successful.

The second area is curiosity.  We live in an overloaded world in terms of information but we seem at the same time to be valuing curiosity less and less as a virtue.  Clients want us to really understand them and their businesses.  The stakeholders we are trying to reach need content that is well thought through.  Our success is nearly always down to our account teams learning and being passionate about what they do.  If you are not curious about what is going on in the world then I suggest a career in communications is not for you.

The final value that really strikes home for me comes from my favorite Woody Allen quote – that 80 per cent of the secret of success is turning up.  Great consultants and PR people do what they say they are going to do.  They follow up, they deliver on time, they don’t bullshit and they certainly don’t let their colleagues down.  I am so proud of Chris and Liz and all the great work they do.  But they also adhere to each of those values – all the time.

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We’re moving!

bluebankside

FleishmanHillard London will be leaving Covent Garden for the centre of the creative and cultural mile known as Bankside, effective Monday 8th June.

Our new address is as follows:

FleishmanHillard

Bankside 2

100 Southwark Street

London SE1 0SW

We look forward to welcoming you to our new home, the view from the roof is stunning. 

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Safety Instructions for Creative Daredevils

Safety Instructions for Creative Daredevils

Everyone wants to run innovative, ground-breaking marketing and communications programmes. We all want to create beautiful campaigns that make a real impact on a brand or company. To ‘play it safe’ earns no bragging rights on the marketing playground.

But so often, we follow a familiar course because we know it’s what’s worked for the brand before. We carry on because the audience eats it up; albeit sometimes like my finicky toddler son. We don’t bother to push for more because we’re less stressed committing our already-stretched budgets to a safe, if dull, pair of hands. Why?

Marketing and communications have changed explosively in the past 10 years. We now have access to the world’s largest, real-time focus group called social media; access to channels that sit directly in our audience’s palms; reams and streams of data (more than is usually useful) to tell us how our messaging is landing and which creative performs best. But still, marketers recycle last year’s approaches and campaigns, slapping on a fresh veneer to support this year’s big product push. Communicators duplicate what they’ve seen other brands doing successfully in a series of incremental one-upmanship that commoditises our profession into a slowly iterative arms race to annihilation by boredom.

How can we continue to break new ground in a way that feels comfortable? How can we make big bets that feel safe?

At FleishmanHillard, we put a few principles into force when innovating with our clients. We’re grateful to have our client’s trust in managing significant budgets and have a duty of care to make sure that we provide meaningful business results.  But, also fundamental to our work, is our duty to remain future-facing to help clients navigate tomorrow’s creative and business unknowns.  These principles give us a reassuring safety net while allowing smart, thoughtful creative risks.

1. CURIOSITY WITH PURPOSE

At the heart of every successful innovative communications programme, lies a hypothesis we’d sought to prove. Ask yourself, what was the most surprising finding from the performance of your last campaign? What would happen if you focused fully on that insight?

2. ‘OUTSIDERS’ ARE VALUABLE

FleishmanHillard often convenes a ‘brain trust’ to support our clients. This is a cross-disciplinary group of people with varying expertise and seniority, who don’t work on the day-to-day business of the brand. Think of them as mentors for a brand, bringing outside perspectives and fresh, objective points of view to bear.  Your brand may already have a group like this in place, sometimes in the form of customer panels or brand ambassadors. How are you harnessing their unique perspectives to creatively address a need or opportunity?

3. CLEVERNESS SUPPORTED BY FACTS

Don’t base your innovation entirely on gut instinct. Use data and insights to form your hypothesis, looking for trends and anomalies that might be exploited, or gaps in the data that might tell an interesting story. Measure the heck out of everything you do with your innovation budget. Learn from successes, and indeed, mistakes, to make all your campaigns – even the safe ones – insidiously clever.

4. BOLDNESS, BRAVERY AND BUDGETS

You’ve got the creative idea – now it’s time to align your bravery with a budget. Think of it as hedging your bets and diversifying your communication investment. We’ve all been inspired the Coca-Cola 70-20-10 rule – 70% budget on the norm, 20% budget on the new, and 10% on the next. Despite this being a point of inspiration, marketers still only contribute about 9% budget to innovation (Gartner, 2014).

5. AUTHENTICITY ALWAYS TRIUMPHS

Finally, while it can be tempting to follow every transient marketing trend or shiny technology bauble, the long-term relationship between your brand, its communications and your consumer hopefully runs much deeper.  Authentic engagement is about making certain that what you say, who says it and how you say it truly aligns your consumers’ expectations with the experience that you the communicator and the brand ultimately deliver.

To successfully innovate in today’s uber-competitive chase for ‘what’s new’…be curious; bring others along for the fun; use data to support your creative brilliance; find the money to match the ambition and always be authentic and true.

This article originally appeared in The Holmes Report

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Friday TechMunch: Who Are The 11%?

Contributed by Immaculate Koigi

The UK Office for National Statistics recently released a report that found 11% of UK adults today have never used the internet in any capacity. That means that a staggering 5.9 million adults in Britain have never accessed online content.

Considering 35m people have a smartphone in the UK (over 30% of these users look at their smartphone within 5 minutes of waking) and fixed broadband Internet connections are now in use by 91% of households, 11% is a surprisingly high figure.

So who are the 11% and why are they so far removed from the connected devices that the vast majority of the country live by?

Though the statistics don’t directly address this question, it was telling to read that only 68% of disabled people admit to using the internet with any regularity and 27.4% of disabled people have never used the World Wide Web at all. The internet may have become a system that connects the globe, providing unlimited access to information and entertainment, but it’s clear that not everyone is able to make use of it.

Dan Howdle, telecoms expert and editor-in-chief of broadband TV and mobile comparison site cable.co.uk said: “From the point of view of webmasters, this is often not because they wish to ignore blind or deaf people, or those with disabilities, from enjoying their content to the same level as anyone else, but because the steps that need to be taken to make it accessible to everyone are resource-intensive.”

Fortunately, this is not a problem that has gone completely unnoticed. Thanks to speech and braille browsers and the choice of different font sizes – there has been a small, 0.2% increase in disabled people who use the net since Q1 of 2014. Nonetheless, there is still work to be done.

A number of charities and organisations have noticed the discrepancy and are striving to make the Web even more accessible to the disabled population. AbilityNet and Community 2.0 are two organisations hoping to tackle this issue in the UK and Facebook’s internet.org may also be able to do some good here – the online platform works with developers to ‘connect people who are unconnected’. Facebook’s current projects are mainly focused on parts of the poorer parts of the world where internet access is harder to come by but it could one day make a positive impact for those with different abilities as well.

Minister Lesley Griffiths, speaking for Disability Wales and Community 2.0 late last year, commented: “Arguably, disabled people have most to gain from digital technologies. It can help reduce isolation and enable independent living by giving disabled people the same choice and control over their lives as everyone else.”

Let’s hope that by the time ONS repeats the survey in 2016, a good proportion of the 11% will have as active on online life as the rest of us.

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Queen’s Speech Preview

Contributed by William Thavenot

This will be the first Conservative only Queen’s Speech of the millennium. A surprise outcome to most, but in stark contrast to the fortunes of their Liberal Democrat former coalition partners, the Conservative Government now finds itself in the unexpected happy position of setting an agenda entirely of its own making.

Legislation such as the Counter-Extremism Bill and Communications Data Bill are cases in point. Torpedoed by the Lib Dems last time round due to concerns over privacy and free speech, these are measures the Conservatives have wanted to enact for some time, and that time is now.

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Friday TechMunch: Clash of the Consoles

Two years have now passed since the ‘eighth generation’ console war begun, with the launch of the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft Xbox One. Few product launches have been as heavily debated and hotly competitive as this head-to-head clash of the titans, but the outcome of the first few rounds has clearly put Sony on top. For now at least, the PS4 remains the best-selling next-gen (current-gen?) console, having sold 22.3 million compared to Xbox One sales of a mere 11.6.

With both units packing similar hardware and sharing a range of near-identical features, it would be foolish to deny the importance of Sony Corp’s communications strategy in shaping the fate of its latest gaming machine. So, just how did Sony manage to turn around their fortunes?

Firstly, Sony focused on just that, GAMING. Sony realised that they needed to align themselves with their core audience and made sure that gaming was the centre of all of their promotional activities. Microsoft, on the other hand, had a very different vision and positioned the Xbox One as an all-in-one entertainment centre, focusing heavily on media set-top box features. This strategy back-fired, alienating the brand’s original fans and sending hard-core gamers in Sony’s direction.

Next, Sony opted for a media launch strategy that would sandwich the Xbox One launch. With the Xbox set to be released one week before the PS4 in November 2013, Sony designed a stunt that would assert media dominance and make sure that any Xbox coverage would have to reference the Sony console…

On the 14th of November, the London OXO Tower underwent a unique makeover. As darkness crept over London’s South Bank, 72 neon lights shone bright to reveal the iconic PlayStation circle, cross, square and triangle button symbols. Buzz on social channels went wild, but the games had only just begun. The OXO Tower then played host to an exclusive preview event for celebrities and lifestyle media as Sony secured key influencers; presenting popular figures from Jonathan Ross to Dizzee Rascal as PS4 fans.

Sony also focused on something that Microsoft couldn’t match, no matter the budget – heritage. The PlayStation brand was first introduced in 1994 and is a veteran compared to that of the Xbox, launched in 2001. This allowed Sony to tap into a pool of nostalgia and iconic gaming culture that was used to capture the hearts of gamers around the world. Not only was this done via the stunt and various visuals, it was reinforced through a clever strapline – #4theplayers. The stunt and hashtag combination helped to generate 36.5 million Twitter impressions within 24 hours and over 60 pieces of media coverage. The PS4 launch was inescapable.

Though Sony seems to have won the battle so far, it might be short-sighted to say that it’s already won the war. On the 14th of May this month, Microsoft announced that it hadthe best-selling console in the U.S. in April”, perhaps suggesting a change in momentum as E3 draws closer. Both parties will be looking to impress and Microsoft will be keen to show off its latest exclusive blockbuster games against Sony’s new indie wild cards.

The outcome of this next skirmish is anyone’s guess, one thing’s for sure – we’re set for another interesting year as the two gaming titans face off once again.

Kayne Gocheekit, Intern, Technology Team

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Friday TechMunch: Five Years on What’s The Scorecard for Tech City?

Contributed by Paul Slinger

In 2010 David Cameron said “our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic Park to help make east London one of the world’s great technology centres.”

Almost five years on, how successful has the government been and what does this tell us about the efficacy of policy in stimulating entrepreneurship?

In a recent report by the Financial Times, Max Nathan, a senior research fellow at the NIESR, commented that “policy has certainly hugely raised awareness of the London tech scene.” But, beyond raising awareness, the impact of government policy is ambiguous. So, does the government deserve the credit it seems to expect?

Recent research from London Tech Advocates found that some 26% of the tech companies surveyed have considered relocating outside the city because of rent rises, while 47% say poor broadband is damaging the area’s reputation. The London Policy Unit at the Federation of Small Business has agreed that creative businesses are moving out of the city, leading to a loss of the natural ecosystem which is so vital to a vibrant tech community.

Some tech entrepreneurs also complain that it is only high-profile businesses with strong connections to those in power that have benefited. They claim that government is drawn to the names and brands that offer a reflected glow, not always the ones that have the greatest potential or impact.

While government tax breaks for investors in early-stage companies, via the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and the Seed EIS scheme, (which raised more than £80m in its first year) have undoubtedly helped, there is a lingering suspicion. Are policy makers more attracted to the good PR the tech industry brings, rather than making meaningful change that helps entrepreneurs?

Emily Thornberry, a Labour party MP whose constituency includes parts of the Silicon Roundabout area, thinks that fast broadband – one of the fundamental building blocks for tech companies – has been overlooked. Commenting in the FT, she said; “Tech City cannot be built simply on hyperbole. We cannot make Tech City one of the world’s great technology centres…when it takes nine hours to upload a 2.5 minute film.”

The acute shortage of skilled workers also continues to hold back the sector with restrictive visa regulations holding back the movement of talent that could help UK start-ups expand. Of the 200 visas Tech City UK could dole out to exceptionally talented entrepreneurs, only seven were distributed in the past year.

So what does the scorecard look like?

Tech City has certainly put the sector high on the radar of policy makers and raised the area in the public consciousness and it would be wrong to claims that this hasn’t translated into real impact. According to research by the London School of Economics and National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the number of digital jobs in the Tech City area climbed from 16,578 in 2012 to 18,679 in 2013.

But if the ultimate goal has been to attract tech start-ups and see them grow, other hubs in the UK have been more successful. Between 2010 and 2013, Bournemouth saw an increase of 212% in new digital businesses while its neighbour, Brighton, witnessed a 91% increase. In the North, Liverpool has seen an increase of 117% while Manchester has recorded a 70% boost. In the same period, inner London also increased its digital businesses by 92%.

Perhaps the lesson here is that the focus on the hipsters in Shoreditch has had just as positive an impact on other parts of the UK.

Skills and infrastructure (read ‘broadband’) remain the most important ways policy makers can support technology sector growth. Take care of this, the argument goes, and the entrepreneurs will take care of the rest, with or without the government.

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Why Cameron shouldn’t forget Clegg

When David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, he was everything that the centre-left despised. Unlike Brixton’s John Major, Cameron was the full-on ‘Tory born to rule’ package. Privately educated, posh and privileged – he was able to wind the left up just by breathing.

The political theories, ideas and policies of the left would have been known to him – but he wouldn’t have spent much time discussing the finer points of democratic socialism with any in his circle in years. Certainly not since the debating days of Oxford. And rather like most politicians – and many voters – his peers have been generally of his own ilk, cut from the same cloth.

But here’s the thing. Over the last five years, the very same David Cameron has been forced to discuss democratic socialism every single working day, due to his Coalition with the Liberal Democrats and Nick Clegg as his Deputy Prime Minister. In fact, he has implemented reforms and pursued left of centre policies throughout the last five years. And so have the senior people around him. For every tax cut for the rich suggested by millionaire George Osborne, Danny Alexander was on hand to force tax thresholds up to help the poor, and so on.

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