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Back to black: will the launch of BB10 be enough to resurrect BlackBerry’s fortunes?

I’m interested to see whether Wednesday’s launch of the BB10 operating system will be enough to reclaim the previous industry giant’s status in the smartphone market.  It’s fought a battle for domination over the last few years – seeing fierce competition from Apple, Samsung and even Nokia as a threatening contender in recent months – that its latest efforts may not be enough to win.

What’s clear is that the marketing around the launch has been taken seriously by Research In Motion.  Judging by the huge anticipation surrounding the launch and subsequent surge in share price, coupled with its investment in an advertising slot at this Sunday’s Super Bowl, RIM is positioning this launch as a genuine reclaimer rather than a last ditch attempt to maintain relevance in a waning smartphone market where even the market leader is getting flack from the media over its iPhone 5 sales.

Yet will the BB10 relaunch be RIM’s phoenix, or will consumers be too busy playing with their iPhones and Samsungs to notice? Despite rumours of shiny new devices and features, analysts are being generally negative about BlackBerry, conceding that whilst it may have comeback potential, its unlikely to supersede its rivals.

Lack of apps, an infuriatingly slow operating system and annoying red lights will not be forgotten quickly by the millions of ex-BlackBerry users. If BlackBerry is looking to make a serious reclaim for its title, the new model will have to  offer something radically superior to the iPhone to achieve any real cut-through and win back its millions of deserters.

At best, BlackBerry could seek to enjoy a significantly enhanced market share thanks to a new product that keeps up with consumers’ desire to devour the latest life-changing technology. At worst, it’s perhaps too late for the previous industry giant to reinvent itself in the context of a smartphone market that has moved on far too much.

Last week’s Consumer Electronics Show highlighted the commercial potential of celebrity collaborations

Last week’s Consumer Electronics Show was low on groundbreaking innovation and high on collaboration.

There wasn’t too much in the way of big news at this year’s CES in Vegas, beyond the unveiling of a raft of new gadgets from talking fridges to bendy phones and the iPotty (something I won’t be using when it comes to potty training my youngest son….).

But one trend that did stand out for me was the number of celebrity and tech collaborations.

The celebrity collaboration was something that the PR industry pioneered many years ago.

What’s interesting is to see a tried and tested PR tactic increasingly deployed for commercial gain. Of particular note was the headphone category, pioneered when Dr Dre launched his Beats by Dr Dre range a few years back.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so I hope Dr Dre was suitably flattered by the range of celebrity headphones launched, which ranged from the credible by Motorhead to the utterly implausible by Snooki of Jersey Shore.

With the likes of blazing the trail on behalf of Intel with bringing technology to popular culture this looks like a trend set to grow and grow.

What was behind James Harding’s shock departure?

The announcement of James Harding’s resignation as editor of The Times is another shock in a year of turmoil for the UK print media. 

I’m interested to dig deeper behind the motives leading to his departure, the second senior exit in as many weeks. Harding was a respected and likeable figure in the UK print media, who admitted in his leaving speech that 

‘it has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times [and] I have therefore agreed to stand down’. The ejecting of a respected and extremely successful leader from within the complexities of the Murdoch empires is more than likely to have had something less amicable behind it.

Many people seem to think that Harding’s departure is something to do with an NI plan to merge the Times and The Sunday Times and have them both run by John Witherow. But that’s far from certain. Tom Mockridge isn’t even out of the door yet, so it’s way too early to be a purely ‘new regime’ move; it’s just not that sort of company. If true, it could mean that Harding’s resignation is paving the way for a new leader at the head of the merged paper. 

I suspect that Harding was regarded as having been disloyal to Murcoch and Brooks over the hacking scandal (The Times’ coverage was notably non-partisan once it started covering the story), and that his card was marked at that point as ‘not one of us’. Plus, he’s been quite instinctively pro-Leveson in all the post-inquiry negotiations with all the newspaper editors – another black mark. It all seems quite personal to me. 

The trigger may have been Robert Thomson’s elevation as CEO of the global newspaper business, as Harding’s sacking was rumoured at that point. Harding dramatically resigned before he could be superseded – which for me, clearly points to bad blood. There has more than likely been a significant amount of in-fighting behind the scenes in recent weeks.  And it may not be over yet. I look forward to hearing about his replacement

Will Mike Darcey be able to steady the ship of News International?

The appointment of Mike Darcey as new chief executive of News International is certainly an interesting choice. It’s always been hard to tell with the Murdochs, but their fast and effective appointment of someone from within the business is a typically shrewd move. Picking Mike Darcey from his previous role as COO at BSkyB – a trusted and untarnished bit of their organisation – makes total sense.
Darcey understands how to navigate the Murdoch / News Corp world but, crucially, he is unblemished by the reputational mess of their UK news business. Furthermore, given the seismic shift in the News International newspaper publishing business model, it will be interesting to see what a newspaper business outsider, heralding from a highly successful media company, will be able to offer by way of a fresh perspective.
Darcey has been appointed with the specific aim of detoxifying the print arm of the business, and it is on this monumental task that he will stake his own reputation. Today’s stories have pointed to his strategic and commercial success at BSkyB in advertising and product development; but also his lack of direct responsibility for programming and news. Regardless, in what will inevitably be a challenging role, it will be fascinating to see the long term effect of his appointment not just on the UK print business, but on the wider media landscape.
So, however well-guided the corporate restructure, News International’s reputation still requires significant rehabilitation. The question is whether Darcey will be able to prove his ability to steady the ship and to lead News Corp’s UK newspaper business into its next phase. And, in the wider context of the corporate reshuffle, whether his experience at BSkyB will have adequately prepared him to navigate News International away from the turbulent waters of the recent times. I’ll be watching this space.

The media awaits with bated breath for Leveson’s response

The media awaits this morning with baited breath to see what Leveson’s recommendations will be and how the government will manage such a heated issue. I was interested to see Hugh Grant in last night’s Channel 4 documentary ‘Taking on the Tabloids’, saying ‘We’re David taking on a terrifying Goliath’ when discussing his mission of promoting legislation against the worst of the press. 

It’s likely the majority of journalists will be opposed to heavy government regulation – The Spectator for one has pledged ‘not to sign up to anything enforced by government’. I fully appreciate the position of media owners  in the context of the century-old relationship we’ve enjoyed in this country with the free press.
However, recent, appalling scandals across the media have shown that something needs to be done to protect the innocent, to address the central problem – which is the invasion of privacy when there is no public interest.

Tesco’s success shows the power of owned media, but editorial remains king

In the wake of the Leveson inquiry, it is interesting to see that the tabloid press was  overshadowed  with this week’s news that Tesco Magazine is more widely read than the Sun.
Whilst arguably the Sun enjoys a greater audience engagement (being published daily, rather than bi-monthly like Tesco) – the retailer’s triumph proves the power of mass distribution. In-store/in-flight magazine have long been considered niche,  but the Tesco’s leapfrog proves that a free circulation model can command a similar audience to traditional print models. According to the National Readership Survey, The Sun still reaches a larger audience overall (due to its more frequent publishing) but the news certainly shows the strength of a free distribution model. Cedar, the content marketing agency that produces Tesco Magazine, also has a raft of titles including British Airways Business Life (which reaches 1.4m million readers a month).
Whilst Helen Johnston’s, editor of Tesco Magazine, claim that ‘What’s clear from these results is that right now, when it comes to print, branded content is king’ may be a little bold, its a testament to the strength of owned media. The in-store publications of Asda, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Boots all scored higher readerships than the Daily Mirror. This conscious editorial investment by consumer publishers, with ex-newstand title staff heading the realms and the provision of content to rival paid-for publications has worked.  It’s  also evident that consumers are actively engaging with these magazines, rather than viewing them as annoying leaflets. However, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves when we say that branded content is king – for me, high-quality independent journalism will alway win.  The long-held split of church and state between advertisers’ messages and editorial control by editors for so long is less relevant to consumers and brilliantly demonstrated by editorial-led commercial models such as
This news should impact on all brands – a view I’ve long held that they should be acting like media companies, by starting to produce and distribute their own content in editorial format. Tesco has leveraged its significant retail footprint and national distribution to create a successful print media brand extension. It shows the increasing impact of distribution models to continue to drive print circulation. This has been seen in the turnaround and success of Shortlist and Stylist – high-quality free sheets that have attracted large audiences and are increasingly attractive for press advertisers.
Branded content may be enjoying a growth spurt, but I would still insist editorial is king.

Is Trinity Mirror strong enough to deal with NI-style hacking allegations?

The worrying signs that Trinity Mirror may be on the cusp of being engulfed in scandal poses a question about how far the hacking allegations will extend beyond NI. The level of scandal and litigation that Trinity Mirror is facing could be deeply damaging. Sly Bailey made some hundreds of millions disappear from the share price during her tenure, and I fear that more bad news could accelerate its losses even further.This is especially concerning considering a key NI editor had been in place at the Mirror.Against a backdrop of investor fatigue at having to foot the bill for an internal inquiry, this only spells trouble for the media group. More damaging news could send shares plummeting even further and advertisers walking, NI-style.
Will it replicate News International’s approach of hefty legal bills, strikes and the breaking up of its print titles? Technically, the group’s hefty stable of 260 titles and 6,000 staff should be protected – yet in a tough trading environment, it will be interesting to see how the new CEO will fare at steering this crisis. I fear that the potentially damaging allegations will be be too much to save the paper – against a backdrop of growing investor fatigue,  does this signal that the hacking scandal has an even higher profile than originally thought?

How Red Bull put entertainment at the heart of its business

Red Bull put entertainment at the heart of its business DNA with last week’s stunt. It showcased the new use of marketing budgets – a multimillion dollar entertainment event would never have been signed off in a traditional marketing plan.

Focusing on entertainment in this way actually creates the news rather than merely pegs onto it.  The extraordinary global event created a whole host of media firsts, for YouTube as well as for Red Bull. The sheer enormity of the task has turned the second screen into the first screen and truly transcended marketing.

We have never before seen a single payout of more than $10 million being included in a traditional marketing plan, comfortably sitting alongside a marketing P&L in accordance with KPIs. By placing such a huge piece of entertainment at the centre of a business’s DNA, rather than sidelining to cost centres, is something that all brands can learn from.

The brand’s strategy showcases how brands becoming creators allows them to mastermind the media coverage of their own events, according to their agenda. The branded footage was created by Red Bull and broadcasted directly to consumers via YouTube. In doing so, Red Bull created an audience of its own and maintained ultimate editorial control at all stages. By doing the newsrooms’ work for them, the brand superceded TV’s greatest asset (the streaming of live events), created the world’s biggest YouTube audience and set the precedent for how brands communicate and engage with consumers.

The sheer scale of ambition would not have even been considered in a traditional marketing budget meeting. Clearly Red Bull has truly conquered the use of making these investments. For me, this really is the future of marketing – seeing spend as investment.

Why the PR industry should keep up with Google TV

Next week’s launch of Google TV will herald the biggest revolution in media since the birth of the internet. It will signify the start of a huge shift in the way we consume broadcast media. What will this curious mix of smartphone technology and the old box mean for viewing habits, and in turn how can PRs take advantage of this shift? Fundamentally it represents a new frontier for marketing disciplines to compete on. Given the PR industry’s rather late start into digital and social media, we as an industry must get on the front foot with this. The opportunity for multiple editorial channels split across a giant screen is a huge one for the PR industry, giving as it does even greater consumer opportunities to screen out advertising.

Whilst the inevitable hardware challenges begin faced by Google and then format battles with the like of Apple launch provide a breathing space, it is still imperative for the industry to wake up to the possibilities of capitalising on what will be nothing short of a media revolution.

TV coverage has too often proved elusive to PR campaigns due to the limited available factual outlets and the love of producers to hide behind spurious regulations relating to on air branding. Google TV, and its competitors, will allow huge increases in niche – and PR friendly – media channels directly onto consumer TV screens. It willpose a challenge in terms of how content is developed and served due to themore passive nature of the consumer experience of watching TV but PR is best placed to help brands navigate multiple content streams delivered to consumers based on the industry’s understanding of the editorial processes of creating what consumers want to see, rather than the traditional advertising route of delivering what brands want to say.

Many commentators are predicting that this will lead to a decline in production quality as already limited budgets are stretched further across formats and competition comes from bedroom-based YouTube stars all vying for a slice of the advertising pie (YouTube is introducing 20 dedicated TV channels in the UK and Europe in 2012).  Whilst this may indeed pose a problem for traditional content producers it represents a strong opportunity for the PR industry to move more and more production in-house and to act more like the media companies they work with. The key to this new future will be speed and flexibility of content production as YouTube hits the bigscreen.

A podium finish will await those agencies that can truly navigate what these changes will mean for the consumer viewing experience and how multiple channels can be synchronised on to one screen. Might this even kill off the growing trend for multi-screen viewing when you can have everything in one place?

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