With the rise of Twitter and Facebook many people downgraded blogs. In social media’s evolutionary history they were regarded as some kind of Neanderthal anomaly that had served its purpose.
However, like the Neaderthal the blog has been surprisingly robust – I personally have at least ten “musr-read” blogs that I visit every day ranging from the history of typography to a rather wonderful blog on life in the East End of London.
As a marketer you write off blogs at your peril.
A recent MORI survey for Hotwire warns against a blind corporate blogging frenzy in response to growing power of blogs. Blogs are becoming an influential source of information across Europe, according to the MORI research, with more than 25 million adults in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain having changed their minds about a company or its products after reading comments or reviews on a blog.
The direct link between user-generated content and people’s intentions to purchase a product or service is highlighted by the new research which found that a third (34%) of Europeans say they have not purchased a product after reading comments on the internet from customers or other private individuals.
Other key findings from the research include:
Blogs are now a near second to newspapers as the most trusted information source: A quarter (24%) of Europeans consider blogs a trusted source of information, still behind newspaper articles (30%), but ahead of television advertising (17%) and email marketing (14%).
High spenders are most trusting of blogs: Of those who spend more than £100 online every month, the proportion of people who trust blogs rises to 30%.
France leads European blogging, Britain lags: Across Europe, six out of ten (61%) internet users have heard of blogging, and one in six (17%), have read a blog. France is the most blog-savvy country in Europe, with 90% of respondents familiar with blogs. The British are the least blog-aware, with only 50% having heard the term. In Germany, 55% have heard of blogs, 58% in Italy and 51% in Spain.
Blogs are now driving purchase decisions: More than half (52%) of Europeans polled said that they were more likely to purchase a product if they had read positive comments from private individuals on the internet.
They also block purchases: Nearly 40 million Europeans have not bought something after reading negative comments posted online.
Gareth Deere, head of technology research, MORI said, “We all trust people’s opinions in the real world. Now we’ve proven the same link online, and it’s having a major impact on people’s buying behaviour. Word of mouth is no longer restricted to close friends and family, it can have the same level of influence upon millions of people across the world.”
With the rise of Twitter and Facebook many people downgraded blogs. In social media’s evolutionary history they were regarded as some kind of Neanderthal anomaly that had served its purpose.
God give me strength. Just been spammed by a “digital media expert” offering a training course on “New Digital Training”. Here it is verbatim:
“As the world of new media continues to explode, I’m writing to introduce you to our new training course: Digital Marketing & PR.
“This in-house course gives a comprehensive overview of the different aspects of new media. It shows delegates how digital techniques can be simply and successfully integrated with more established PR strategies to generate new revenue streams for your agency.
“Who is it for? PR professionals with a basic knowledge of new media, wishing to advance their skills, speak the language with confidence and sell more digital work to their clients.”
Oh Dear. I am not sure that new media is exploding nor do I know what a “digital technique” is – I wish I had one though.
The curious thing is the person who sent the email – obviously blind CC’d to all the unfortunate recipients – has not got a clue about social media. Otherwise, she/he would not have spammed me in this manner. Meanwhile, their online presence is decidedly Web1.0 – no blog, no social networks, no Twitter.
I’m finding that a lot of PR companies which have, up until recently, ignored the possibilities of social media as a medium for communications – and in some cases even derided it – are now putting themselves forward as experts on social media. All this on the strength of a month-old blog and a Twitter account with five followers.
As with traditional media relations, the sloppy agencies which gave the industry a bad name with the media, will tarnish us with same brush with their backward approach to social media.
There are some excellent agencies out there doing some fantastic work through social media – but now that others have spotted the bandwagon they threaten to turn it over as they struggle to get on board.
Posted by News Update at 11:22 AM
Now this story might appear a bit crude, but it really happened, and inadvertently provided a wonderful metaphor for understanding new developments in communications, particularly social media.
Picture the scene: I am in a busy Edinburgh pub, crowded with delegates from conference.
At the end of the evening, me and some acquaintances were still talking shop at the bar, with one delegate airing his view that he ‘really didn’t see the significance of this social media thing.’
One senior delegate patiently sought to explain how social media was not just another channel for communication, but required a different mindset. And then, without announcement, surreptitiously, slipped away from the bar.
His new found friend at the conference, an Irish guy then declared in his Dublin brogue: "Someone has farted - and it’s not me!"
I reassured him that it genuinely wasn’t me either. The absent friend seemed prime suspect.
The episode instantly provided me with a metaphor: This is how social media is different. You see, normal communications is telling the world what you want to say. Social media, is picking up conversations which may be about you, and may, in many instances not be instigated about you. So, you would not issue a press release for the equivalent of ‘You have just farted’. The fart, however, is a reality for those out there. And is more likely to be picked up as a conversation piece, regardless of your embarrassment.
If you’re not out there listening, and appropriately responding you are in danger of living in an artificial, You-Centric world, and not being part of the real conversation. That’s the real difference with this social media thing.
The metaphor seemed to work in making his new friend understand the different mindset of social media. It’s funny, how an ill-wind can bring new insight.
Posted by News Update at 11:20 AM
Congratulations to our client NetConstruct for beeing short listed in the prestigious Drum Awards for the Digital Industries (DADI) for its work with one of our favourite brewers Theakstons. Masham-based Theakstons, one of the region’s oldest brewers, has been nominated for two DADI Awards for Best Consumer/Retail Website and Best Use of Visual Design alongside award-winning digital agency NetConstruct. Other companies in their categories include Sony, Samsung, Glenmorangie, XBox, Doc Martens and Visit Scotland. The winners will be revealed at an awards dinner at Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium in November. Wetherby-based NetConstruct, one of the top Kentico developers in the UK, was commissioned by Theakstons to design and develop a website that captured the company’s values as a family brewing company which takes pride in its track record as a craft brewing innovator. NetConstruct’s Director of Development Jonathan Healey says: “We’ve put a lot of time and effort into developing the new Theakstons’ website. We sent a team of 25 over to the brewery to ensure that we truly understood the values that stood behind Theakstons’ famous ales and that is reflected in the new website’s design. “We have also integrated a lot of interactive features including an ale selector so visitors can select their preferences from the ale characteristics and an interactive history of brewing in Masham from 835AD to today. Other features include an online shop.” Since its launch the new website, which is built on the Kentico content management system, has seen a significant rise in traffic, and a rise in trade enquiries and bookings for brewery’s popular tours. Victoria Bramley, Consumer Marketing Manager at Theakstons, says: “As one of the oldest family brewing companies in the country, it was important for us to work with a digital agency who truly understood the heritage and tradition behind Theakstons. “From our initial meetings to the design and implementation of our new website, NetConstruct has appreciated our brand values and the integrity of our company. We are absolutely delighted with the result and these nominations for a DADI Award underscore the quality of the work.” The DADIs, now in their sixth year, bring together individuals and companies at the forefront of digital technology and aim to recognise and reward digital excellence in design and development. The Theakstons’ website, which is powered by the world class Kentico content management system, was officially launched at the Internet World 2012 exhibition in London where visitors were in for a refreshing surprise on the Kentico stand. In contrast to other stands Kentico and NetConstruct were offering tasters of Theakstons’ legendary Old Peculier ale. “The juxtaposition of a bar stocked with Old Peculier on the Kentico software stand was an opportunity too good to miss,” said Director Simon Theakston. “It was the perfect way for us to launch our new Theakston website and online shop and enjoy some good, honest ale.”
Posted by News Update at 7:24 PM
Is one of the reasons we are in a wave of Jubilee and Olympic celebrations that they have better memes than their rivals? I would call my position as being one of ‘individualistic stance’. But now I’m even more annoyed that I recently missed ‘Levellers Day’.
I have been largely passive to the euphoria sweeping the nation surrounding the Jubilee celebrations, and also the hysteria of the Olympic Torch running past our doorways. I did go to a Jubilee gala event organised at the Archbishop of York’s palace which gave me an opportunity to speak to Dr John Sentamu - who turns out to be both a charming man and a brilliant bongos player (I kid you not) I would describe myself as a royalist agnostic in that I uphold principles of meritocracy and don’t believe in deference by birth.
At the same time however, I somehow espouse a muddled political pluralism and the PR man in me sees how potent monarchy is for the British band, while republican regimes seem to spend just as much on their elected royalty. As for the Olympic torch parade is it only me who sees the underlying mechanics of a PR stunt for corporate sponsors? But my wife was right; being critical without being constructive was rendering me the status of being a ‘miserable old git’.
Serendipiditously, I came across a reference to Cornet Thompson and Corporals Church and Perkins who, until recently were buried in unmarked graves in Burford church, Oxfordshire. They were executed on Cromwell’s orders on May 17 1649. The three soldiers belonged to a movement popularly known as the Levellers, with beliefs in civil rights and religious tolerance. During the Civil War, the Levellers fought on Parliament's side, they had at first seen Cromwell as a liberator, but now saw him as a dictator.
They were prepared to fight against him for their ideals and he was determined to crush them. Over 300 of them were captured by Cromwell's troops and locked up in Burford church. Three were led out into the churchyard to be shot as ringleaders. Now, over 360 years their deaths are honoured by those willing to celebrate and commemorate our political freedoms -which in 1649 were seen as radical heresy - and the wider quest for a fairer, more just society. The only problem is, as I see it, the Levellers need better memes.
A meme is a self-replicating form of communication. The song ‘Happy Birthday’ is a meme - you know the words without having to go on a training course. So, in order for Levellers Day to be better known its meme-shopping list should include:
Connections with current brands and values - the heroic story of Cornet Thompson refusal to repent his ideals must echo with heroes throughout the ages, such as the ‘tank man’ in Tiananmen Square (commonly referred to in Chinese as Wang Weilin.)
Iconic acts - what can you do, wherever you are in the world to celebrate Levellers Day. St. Patrick’s day for example, has been hijacked by the ‘drink a pint of Guinness’ meme. What can each and every on Levellers Day supporters do? Maybe plant a tree is one idea?
Iconic image - what picture can capture the act of celebrating Levellers Day. It needs to be more than a Sealed Knot re-enactment, and perhaps symbolise peace and social justice.
Sticky phrase - what is the sticky message we need people to pass on about Levellers Day
A constant date - at the moment celebrations seem to be around the weekend ahead or after May 17th.
My advice would be to keep it constant as the weekend before or on the date
Posted by News Update at 7:12 PM
I used to work with Chris Oakley, former editor of the Liverpool Echo later owner of the Birmingham Post and Mail and then the Yorkshire Post, and he was and is a fine newspaper man. Later, he became chairman of Venturedome.com where I was editorial director. Venturedome no longer exists – but local newspapers are still around. Not for much longer according to Chris.
As a person obsessed with print journalism I was going to do a critique of a speech delivered by Chris last night to the Society of Editors regional conference in Manchester. However, there is not much to critique.
Entitled Five Minutes to Midnight: The death and possible re-birth of the regional newspaper industry, Chris gave his own devastating critique of the current state of the regional press, which he argued now needed to be rebuilt from the bottom up. Here is the speech in full:
We live in strange times.
That theatre of selective amnesia, the Leveson inquiry, plays to a largely indifferent public at a cost of tens of millions to reveal what? That politicians saddled up and sucked up to media tycoons who, in turn, sought favours as all leading businessmen with access to ministers do, that journalists buy their contacts a pint or four and that celebrities want publicity – but only on their own terms. Well, surprise, surprise.
When the curtain finally falls, what will have changed? Politicians will still be slippery, businessmen will still seek to influence them, whining celebrities will still be trying to get their non-stories into newspapers…and we may have some new curbs on press freedom to work our way around.
Hacking into people’s telephones and emails is already illegal and those who do it should be prosecuted unless they can show an indisputable public interest. We don’t need to spend lorry loads of public money at a time of austerity to tell us the obvious.
On the other hand, the regional and local newspaper industry, whose titles are read by more people than all the nationals and which have a bigger influence on the lives of individuals and communities, is on the point of collapse. Twenty per cent of the UK’s local newspapers have closed in the last seven years, more than 240 titles, leaving sizeable communities from Port Talbot to Cannock from Leominster to Long Eaton without a title.
What is the government doing about that? It stood aside when Ofcom prevented a takeover of weeklies in Kent that would have saved titles from closure. In contrast, the Welsh Assembly has already launched an investigation into the local Press and the Scottish Parliament is considering a request to do the same.
Meanwhile, our wise, impartial and incorruptible Culture Secretary is devoting time and money to stimulating the launch of local television, a tried and failed experiment long ago, in an age with less competition for viewers’ time from satellite channels and the internet. Just 50 years late then.
If this is the best that arrogant, posh rich boys can do, then no wonder the Caravan Club has more members than all our political parties combined.
This week Greece has been back in the news, the disintegration of a country where the economic growth of the boom years wasn’t invested for the future but recklessly spent and used to accumulate debt.
Now Greece is no longer an independent country; it’s a province of Brussels or Berlin. Real power lies with bureaucrats and bankers whose priority is not the future of Greece and its people but to protect the money the lenders have at risk.
Thousands of workers are sacked, assets are sold off, there are no jobs for trained young people, no investment for the future. The country is moving inexorably closer to collapse.
The parallels with the big newspaper groups are disturbingly uncanny.
Take Johnston Press.
In the boom years, the Stock Market valued Johnston Press at more than £1 billion and investors and analysts applauded as the company ran up nearly half a billion in debt.
Now Greece, which has debts of 1.5 times its annual GDP, looks positively stable in comparison to JP which has debts nine times its £40 million market value.
Johnston Press first threw itself on the mercy of its lenders in 2009. Mercy and lenders do not usually co-exist in a sentence – and they didn’t in this case. The financial journalist Peter Kirwan estimated that, including fees, JP had to agree to pay an interest rate of more than 15% to secure a three-year extension of its loans.
Those millions paid to the banks equate to the salaries of about 1,000 journalists, according to Peter Kirwan’s estimate, and JP has been cutting staff ever since.
Last month, JP was forced to go back to its bankers again. This time, the interest rate is 10% and the first year fees alone are nearly £12 million. A cull of editors and their deputies was duly announced, offices were closed, staff centralised and more cuts are promised. Across the group, staff numbers have been shrinking faster than the Polar ice cap.
Yet JP last year had a profit margin beyond the imagining of most businesses – a margin of 17%…before shelling out nearly £40 million in interest.
The company’s chief executive, Ashley Highfield, plans to reduce the debt burden by doubling that margin over the next eight years.
That’s an objective as achievable as the regular predictions by another leading businessman.
It is not Mr Highfield’s fault, but the days when 35% profit margins were in reach are long gone.
If JP is a zombie company, kept alive so that the banks can suck the last drop of cash from it, then, on the face of it, Trinity is in a more comfortable place with debts of only about £265 million, just over three times its market value. That value, by the way, is down more than 96% compared to five years ago.
Trinity, too, is walking a knife edge. It has to repay more than £160m to American creditors over the next three years and has decided to do this by making a 70% reduction in its contribution to a staff pension fund, which already has a growing deficit. The ghost of Robert Maxwell must have been applauding in the boardroom when that decision was taken.
The Pensions Regulator is investigating whether he should stop Trinity paying back US creditors at the potential expense of UK pensioners. To be on the safe side, the company has arranged to borrow a further £110 million.
How will the creditors’ repayment be financed? Well, it won’t be through growing profits – they were down 40% in 2011 in spite of the addition of profits from the acquisition of the Manchester Evening News and its associated titles. So profit growth is out – Trinity is following 2011’s £25 million of cuts with a further £15 million in 2012.
Not a lot of room for investment in regional titles, then.
Sly Bailey may have fallen on her sword – or tripped over her pay packet – but her successor will have no choice but to follow the same policy: more cost reductions.
Newsquest contributes 17% of the profits of the biggest US newspaper publisher, Gannett, but hardly rates a mention in the company’s annual report.
It has not, though, escaped the parent company’s substantial and continual contraction which will increase this year on the evidence of the first quarter performance when newspaper profits fell by almost half.
Northcliffe is in a stronger position than the other three major groups but has shed almost a quarter of its 3,000 workforce since 2010 and announced a further 13% cut in regional editorial costs this year.
For decades, the regionals kept the Daily Mail afloat but some years ago the company decided to exit regional publishing…and then turned down an offer of more than £1 billion for its titles. It’s an offer that will never be repeated…and the company has been chipping away at the regionals’ foundations ever since.
So why are companies saddled with this unsustainable debt burden at a time when revenues and profits are flowing away from newspapers?
The last decade of the 20th century and the early years of the present one were a golden age for newspaper owners. Advertising spend was growing rapidly, TV and radio advertising slots were limited, the internet was in its infancy and newspapers were the obvious outlet for the rising expenditure.
Newspapers with profit margins of 25% or more were cash rich and their valuations soared. There was no shortage of banks prepared to lend to acquirers on the most improbable of forecasts. City analysts fed the frenzy, endorsing the promises of chief executives for continually growing profits and margins.
To attempt to make good on those promises, companies were compelled to compete to acquire titles because such growth could never be achieved organically…and as the groups became bigger, the acquisitions needed to be bigger too if they were to have any discernible impact on the bottom line…and so the debt mountains grew.
Between 2005 and 2007 Johnston Press spent almost £1 billion on acquisitions including £250 million for 11 paid weeklies and 10 freesheets in rural Ireland. Two years later, they tried to sell the titles. The best offer was less than £40 million.
That golden age, which generated profits that could have been used to secure the future of local newspapers, will never return.
As margins reached their peak, markets had already changed. The internet was making inroads into key classified categories because managements, with their focus on acquisitions and meeting impossible City expectations, were not prepared to divert cash to investment.
If publishers had supported Fish4, the industry’s far-sighted initiative to upload motors, property and recruitment advertising to the Internet, regional newspapers could now have the largest and best used property, motors and situations vacant sites…and RightMove would not be worth more than even the biggest regional newspaper group.
Instead, managements at first largely ignored the Internet; then they launched online sites but severely restricted them to avoid cannibalising their print titles’ advertising. Even now, many groups shy away from using the power of brands built up over a century or more and invent new names for their websites. Most give away their only trade-able commodity, local news.
Contrast that with publishers in Europe. In Norway, Schibsted decided in 1999 that classified was made for online and online for classified. They set up an independent online division to drive classified with no responsibility for print advertising. That business now produces 36% of the group’s revenues with a higher margin than its newspapers and has established Schibsted as the country’s online market leader.
In Finland, newspaper publisher Sanoma believed from the outset that its editorial had a value. It charged even seven day a week print subscribers extra for access to its online editorial. More than a third of its titles’ readers now pay that annual subscription.
You didn’t need to be a Northern European to see the threat and the opportunity. In 1999, we set up in Leeds an online only company, Regional Interactive Media, free to compete with our print titles to be the definitive source for local information, services and shopping.
We believed our ownership of the local information franchise, our instant brand recognition, our relationship with readers, buyers and sellers made us ideally placed to capitalise on internet opportunities. We could also use our newspapers to provide constant and free promotion for the sites.
In the first year of operation we uploaded one million vehicle advertisements, 350,000 job advertisements and 250,000 properties for sale and achieved 12 million page impressions. Our revenues grew from nothing to £500,000. Two years later, revenues stood at £2,500,000 and the division was on the point of breaking even.
That strategy was unpopular with most investors who believed, correctly but shortsightedly, that money invested in the Internet could instead have boosted profit. In 2002 Johnston Press bought our titles. It closed Regional Interactive Media and that investment did indeed fall to the bottom line, a short term boost at the expense of a long-term future.
Opportunities were missed that it is now too late for UK publishers seize.
So what does all this mean for the future of titles that in many cases have served their communities for more than a century?
Unfortunately, companies which produce more than half the UK’s remaining 1,101 local newspapers are run to service their debts and to maintain the illusion that they will match the exceptional profits and margins they achieved in boom times. Mutally exclusive and mutually assured destruction.
So how long, can this continue? On my clock, at the stroke of midnight, it’s oblivion.
I share the view of Ashley Highfield that time has run out for the big city dailies. The policies pursued by the big groups in recent years have run the clock down and the internet has hit regional dailies particularly hard.
Most dailies have historically been profitable only three days of the week - the days on which the motors, jobs and property ads appeared, the days incidentally on which they also had their largest sales. Now those categories have largely migrated online.
The bigger dailies are almost exclusively owned by publicly-quoted companies whose own future is uncertain.
As a result, costs continue to be cut in ways which have rendered the regional dailies less readable and less relevant. You know better than me how editorial workloads have been increased while staff has been reduced; how page designs are templated in a one-size fits all approach.
JP is creating five templates for all its 270 newspapers. It’s a policy which makes nonsense of shaping a paper to project best that day or week’s news, of designing a page around the perfect headline or the compelling picture.
Remote printing has led to 'evening' titles having deadlines the previous afternoon - and that matters because readers still expect to find the day’s most important local stories covered in their own daily.
A former editor of the Newcastle Chronicle Paul Robertson has written about the backlash from readers when they found they couldn’t read about the shooting of PC Rathband by Raoul Moat in that day’s paper.
Distribution has been handed to wholesalers, rather than local teams, cutting costs but offering less flexibility for editionising and home delivery and less availability in fringe areas.
In many cities, sales and household penetration have fallen below a level which can produce an acceptable response for advertisers. In Birmingham, the evening paper now sells around 40,000 a day in a city of a million; in Leeds the Evening Post sells 34,000 to a city of half a million; and it’s a similar story from Bristol to Bradford.
The response of debt-burdened companies is to rack up cover prices to replace lost circulation revenue while trimming paginations to meet rising newsprint bills. The predictable result is that sales are falling even faster - 8% in Bradford, 9% in Bristol, 10% in Birmingham, 15% in Leeds at the last count.
On top of the relentless reduction of costs, those of you who are editors of big city dailies face another problem not of your companies’ making. Local or regional newspapers need to be able to reflect the identity of the community they serve but in most major cities that identity has fractured into different and often conflicting ones, represented by race, religion, culture and economic divisions.
No daily newspaper, particularly one with a limited ability to editionise, can now, for example, meet the needs of most people in multi-cultural Birmingham or economically divided Leeds.
Not all our dailies are owned by the big groups, of course. The family-owned dailies are mostly in smaller cities with a more coherent community identity, but they are not immune to decline. In Cumbria, the News and Star saw newspaper sales fall by 10%.
But these titles are more likely to survive, although perhaps as a weeklies or bi-weeklies. Northcliffe began the conversion of evenings to weeklies and reports some success in places such as Bath, Torquay, Exeter and Scunthorpe. Johnston Press announced the conversion of five of its smaller evenings to weeklies last month.
In my view, this strategy is unlikely to offer more than a temporary reprieve for big city titles like Trinity’s Birmingham Post and Liverpool Daily Post.
Weeklies with their lower cost base and less dependence on national, property, motors and jobs advertising stand a better chance. Those chances are improved the further their circulation area is from major cities because shared identity remains stronger in more rural communities.
Survival chances are best for family-owned weeklies. Those of you editing weeklies owned by publicly-quoted companies will know only too well that you face similar cost-reduction challenges to those of your sister dailies.
I believe it is no coincidence that the latest ABC figures show that while 84 of the 693 paid and free weeklies increased their sales or distribution, the worst performing, losing almost 20% of their sales, were - all bar one - owned by one of the major groups, Trinity.
Mr Highfield’s claim that weekly newspapers are not sensitive to cover price rises, with some of up to 25p planned by JP, would be laughable if it wasn’t tragic - especially as this is coupled with a plan to have half of all editorial content, in print and online, written by 'citizen journalists'.
But all is not black. Recent major research by Deloittes reported that 40% of people read a local newspaper at least once a week. Unfortunately, we have trained younger readers to expect those newspapers to be free, just as most newspapers have trained their online readers to expect news to be free. The over 55s are the most likely to buy a local newspaper and 62% still do every week.
The research also discovered that newspaper advertising has more impact than online advertising with 62% saying they paid more attention to newspaper advertisements. In fact, Internet display advertising lost ground in 2011. Asked the same question in 2010, only 49% of respondents said they paid more attention to print than online. Interestingly enough, discount coupons cut out of newspapers were also more popular than online social couponing.
So, there is a market which reads and trusts newspapers, which can be profitably served although probably only weekly.
And why wouldn’t there be? Newspaper Society research shows that 80% of the population spend half their life and 90% of their money within five to ten miles of where they grew up. Most people still have local roots.
But those people, those potential readers, expect to see faces they know in the pages of their local paper, to read names they recognise, to be alerted to decisions and events that might impact their day-to-day life or budget, to read stories that involve or affect them, about their family, their friends, their neighbours, their team, their club, their street, their town or village
That requires feet on the ground, journalists visible, accessible and part of the communities they serve.
The owner of what is now the UK’s fifth largest group with more than 220 titles demonstrates every week how truly local newspaper empires can still grow and prosper.
Sir Ray Tindle has built his group over the last half century. For many years he was regarded with faint amusement by larger publishers as he bought weekly titles others considered to be insignificant. Unlike Sir Ray, those publishers are not smiling now.
I once asked him what the group profit margin was. He said he neither knew nor cared. What he did know was the titles made bigger profits each year, that the company had no debt and that all acquisitions were financed out of profits. The last time I spoke to him, every one of his titles was turning a profit and, incidentally, if you want to read that local news online you pay it - and people do.
Ray is not alone. The family owner of the Gossweiler Media in Switzerland launched a newspaper for his 45,000 community, bi-weekly in print and constantly updated online. Advertisers and readers pay for print, online and mobile access as one package. With margins of 30% - something the UK’s big groups will never see again - he is now rolling out the model in Austria and Germany.
At a recent conference, he held up a picture of Barrack Obama and said: This man has never appeared in our newspaper. Then he held up a picture of the local mayor and said: This man is always in our newspaper.
How Ray would applaud because, week in and week out, he demonstrates that the demand for local news and information is as great as it has ever been.
The opportunity has not gone unnoticed. Ironically, there have been more UK newspaper launches in the last two years than at any time during the last decade and 70 in the last five years.
Entrepreneurs have recognised the void opened up as the major groups retreated into their hubs and have responded by launching highly-localised publications, some weekly, some monthly, some paid for, some free, some in newspaper format, some in pocket-sized magazine format.
It is hard work to get them off the ground and individual profits are small but each title can be the building block in an expanding group.
From Saddleworth to Dewsbury, from Corby to Tenby, across the country, these new publications are packed with the sort of advertising my first newspaper, the Sevenoaks Chronicle, once carried. Most have a long way to go before they can bear journalistic comparison with traditional weeklies of the past but, as paginations grow, the breadth of their content expands.
These start-ups will never be a private equity investment vehicle, never a City favourite but they remain a good lifestyle investment - which is why families launched local newspapers more than a century ago.
So do local newspapers have a future? Not as part of the industry we now know but one rebuilt from the ground up.
The banks may yet have a part to play. Last month Lloyds wrote off the £25 million debts of the Dunfermline Free Press group to allow a management buy-out to go ahead. The bank holds 90% of the shares in the new company and how it wields the power of that shareholding to get its money back will determine whether this may be a way to salvage a future for the smaller indebted groups and titles.
Neil Fowler, a former editor and associate of Nuffield College, Oxford, has suggested, the government might help the large groups to negotiate an orderly default on their debts with the titles sold to local businessmen or communities.
It would certainly be a better, healthier use of public money than funding months more of failed recollections at Leveson but while the companies can pay the bank’s exorbitant interest rates the price of default would be high.
In any case, many of the major groups’ titles are too damaged to attract buyers.
Would I buy a big city regional daily tomorrow?
Not even for £1 debt free - unless I was an asset stripper, looking to cream off the last few years’ profit before a title’s collapse or a billionaire prepared to invest unrecoverable millions for reasons other than profit - for status, to have a platform for my views, for serve my community. In fact, billionaires are buying newspapers for just those reasons - among them Alexander Lebedev in London and Warren Buffett in Omaha, even though - in Buffett’s words - newspaper finances are dire.
If I were a young journalist today, I would start my own weekly newspaper in one of those areas which the big groups nominally call theirs but from which they have to all intents and purposes retreated - and it’s important for a free, democratic and open society that young journalists do just that.
Our councils and our courts need to be covered, authority needs to be challenged, press offices need to be bypassed. This cannot be left to citizen journalists.
The paid-for local press grew up to be a mirror in which a community could see itself and more, much more besides. It was there to alert and to protect individuals, to build and to bind communities, to defend and to campaign for those in need of support, tobe the voice of those who would otherwise be unheard.
If local newspapers continue to disappear where will communities turn when planners slice up their neighbourhoods, Tesco bulldozes their tennis courts and the local school or library is closed?
Economic historians may take the view that regional newspapers were never suited to becoming public companies. Titles provide a bespoke service to a defined geographical market; their opportunities for expansion are limited; their main revenue streams cyclical.
They may conclude that regional newspapers were and are better in the hands of local entrepreneurs or families who look to enjoy the good lifestyle newspapers can provide alongside the status and service to the community that goes hand in hand with ownership.
Regional newspapers could never sustain the City’s demands for constant growth in profits and margins and we see now the consequences of attempting to do so.
In a couple of decades, managements overpaid for acquisitions, over-promised to City investors, failed to recognise the threat and opportunity of the Internet and have come close to destroying an industry.
The losers are not managements whose salaries continue to rise as their companies’ value declines, not even the many journalists whose jobs have vanished, the real losers are communities up and down the country which are now worse informed than a century ago, a depressing outcome in what is supposed to be the age of information overload.
And so we end back in Greece - where they have a word for the cause of it all - hubris.
Posted by News Update at 9:41 AM
Had an amazing day at Coldstones Cut, North Yorkshire. Created by the artist Andrew Sabin, The Coldstones
Cut is Yorkshire's latest visitor attraction. A massive construction which visitors can freely walk through and explore, the sculpture overlooks the huge working Coldstones Quarry and offers spectacular views over the scenery of Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales.
Andrew Sabin studied at Chelsea College of Art between 1979 and 1983. He taught there as a part-time lecturer and later as a 0.5 Senior Lecturer between 1987 and 2005. Between graduation in 1983 and 1990 he practised as a highly experimental object maker. Between 1990 and 1997 he made three major installations first at The Chisenhale Gallery, then 'The Sea of Sun' for The Henry Moore Institute and finally 'The Open Sea' at The Henry Moore Studio in Halifax. In 1998 he began to concentrate his energies on applying his understanding of the potenetial sculpture has in the public realm in a series of projects culminating in 'The Coldstones Cut', which won the Marsh Award for Public Sculpture in 2011.
This place has been open since 2010 - and I only found out about it this week. Here's some pictures:
Posted by News Update at 5:27 PM
The Ten Commandments of Typography by Paul Felton
1. Thou shalt not apply more than three typefaces in a document.
2. Thou shalt lay headlines large and at the top of a page.
3. Thou shalt employ no other type size than 8pt to 10pt for body copy
4. Remember that a typeface that is not legible is not truley a typeface.
5. Honour thy kerning, so that white space becomes visually equalized between characters.
6. Thou shalt lay stress discreetly upon elements within text.
7. Thou shalt not use only capitals when setting vast body copy.
8. Thou shalt always align letters and words on a baseline.
9. Thou shalt use flush-left, ragged-right type alignment.
10. Thou shalt not make lines too short or too long.
But you can break all these rules...
Posted by News Update at 4:06 PM
Congratulations, and a big pat on the back, for Tom Woolley and the team at the National Media Museum in Bradford on the launch of the new Life Online Gallery last night. It was a great event and even included an online appearance from Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Media is one the sponsors) and from Vint Cerf. Vint Cerfis an American computer scientist, who is recognized as one of founding fathers of the internet, who was a program manager for the United States Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funding various groups to develop TCP/IP technology. When the Internet began to transition to a commercial opportunity during the late 1980s, Cerf moved to MCI where he was instrumental in the development of the first commercial email system connected to the Internet. Life Online is the world's first gallery dedicated to exploring the social, technological and cultural impact of the internet. This permanent gallery will trace the history of the internet, uncover how it has changed people's lives and track the latest trends. The gallery covers two spaces within the Museum. The first is a permanent exhibition in the foyer with the second being a changing temporary exhibition on Level 7. The first exhibition to feature is [open source]: Is the internet you know under threat? - an exploration of the open source nature of the internet and the current threats to net neutrality which could signify the end of this culture. Full Disclosure: I am a member of the Museum's Internet Gallery Advisory Board Check out the discussion on twitter with the hashtag #LifeOnline. I also think it's neat that the acronym for the new gallery encapsulates the digital zeitgiest: L.O.L. Here's some (dodgy) pictures from the night:
Posted by News Update at 9:47 AM
Every time a new social media platform gains any sort of traction with the public - people start abusing it and other people.
So it’s no surprise then that Pinterest already has a fair number of trolls and squatters sitting on hiding behind celebrity names and famous brands and trying to pass themselves off as the real deal.
Pinterest, a visual bulletin board service, recently announced a brief policy statement on usernames that hardly clears things up for companies, celebrities, and satirists alike. Is this Michelle Obama? It seems unlikely, that the First Lady’s "Eat As I Say Not As I Eat" section, in which she pins pictures of "Places where I've consumed incredible amounts of calories while campaigning for America to eat healthier."
Meanwhile, there are countless other examples where the likes of Starbucks, Foursquare and others have been squatted on by jokers or malicious trolls.
Brands and celebrities have an invested interest in maintaining the public perception of their names. Erosion of that image damages their ability to make money in the long run, and some companies are required to maintain a vigilance over their names to retain a functioning copyright.
The most popular social networking sites have already come face-to-face with the reality that early adopters will claim names, identities, and brands that may not truly belong to them. But the way each site deals with instances that could involve accusations of libel, bartering user names for money, or other unsanctioned uses of social networking property, has varied.
Twitter uses the Verified account to denote celebrities, and allows parody accounts but will shut down impersonating accounts. Facebook requires real names with some narrow exceptions. Google+ originally required real names, but now will support pseudonyms, and also verifies celebrities' accounts.
Pinterest seems to still be coming to terms with the issue, even as its popularity grows. This has pretty much been the case for most social media platforms who have evolved terms and conditions to address squatters as their sites have evolved and morphed over time.
The most famous instance of Pinterest misnaming is Mitt Romney. His campaign pursued the shutdown of a fake (though pretty clearly satirical) account using his name. Pinterest itself says: "Pinterest respects the trademark rights of others.
Accounts with usernames, Pin Board names, or any other content that misleads others or violates another’s trademark may be updated, transferred or permanently suspended." Those who feel their usernames have been affected can register a complaint via Pinterest's Trademark Complaint Form where they say: "Pinterest will review your submission and take whatever action, in its sole discretion, it deems appropriate, including temporary or permanent removal of the trademark from the Pinterest site."
The key thing here for brands is to stay on top of your social media and ensure you are an early adopter for the new, new thing. Or, at the very least, be prepared to take action if you think your brand is being abused. Anyway you can check out some daft spoof Pinterests here.
Posted by News Update at 9:43 AM
Just this week the campaign has gone viral with Twitter users around the world have inundated the micro-messaging site with calls to stop the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony.
Messages tagged #StopKony2012 and #MakeKonyFamous lit up Twitter for the better part of the morning today, and were listed among the top trending topics worldwide.
Invisible Children, which is solely focused on bringing an end to the Lord's Resistance Army, started the online campaign to bring attention to a new film on the subject called "Kony 2012."
This is interesting because the Invisible Children have really done their homework on the use of social media and are rolling out the campaign across all platforms from Twitter to Facebook to Vimeo (see the video here) and back again and inbetween.
The Lord's Resistance Army started in northern Uganda in the late 1980s as a rebellion against the country's armed forces. Under the leadership of Joseph Kony, the group evolved into a militant cult that has forcibly recruited thousands of children into its ranks, mutilated or killed tens of thousands of people across Central Africa and displaced many more.
The topic gained momentum with the help of some celebrity heavyweights, including American singers Taylor Swift and Rhianna, who have both endorsed the Invisible Children campaign on the site.
To give an idea of just how much sway these celebrities have on Twitter, keep in mind that Rhianna has more than 14-million followers, which makes her more popular than Barack Obama.
The Lord's Resistance Army, once thought to number in the thousands, is now believed to consist of only a couple hundred fighters.
But even in small numbers, the group has continued to attack villages in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.
It will be interesting to see where this campaign goes - what do you think?
Posted by News Update at 4:57 PM
Pinterest has sort of crept up on us at GREEN but it looks set to become THE social network of 2012.
The web-based "pinboard," which launched almost two years ago, barely got a mention on the techy news sites until six months ago, when early adopters suddenly realised that the had site had millions of monthly users.
My initial reaction was not very positive when I first encountered and could briefly be summed up as NOT ANOTHER BLOODY SOCAIL NETWORK! But at GREEN we have been impressed by what Pinterest does and what the potential is for business.
Pinterest has grown a devoted base of users who enjoy "pinning" items they find around the Web. It’s really a simple concept.Think virtual scrapbook or bulletin board. If you find a photo of something you like online, you add it to one of your Pinterest boards.
Then all of your images are shared with Pinterest users from around the world. They can see your stuff, you can see theirs.
Where Pinterest win is that sharing on there involves less effort over time and that social sites are becoming more visual over time.
And the third is that "people-centric" recommendations are being augmented by "topic-centric" networks - which is to say that while Facebook lets you explore the Web through information shared by friends, newer social networks organise content by topics of interest which should be of real interest to business. I particularly like the “localism” of the site as “local” is where I think social networks will go this year.
Our friend and social media pioneer Steve Davis has done a very excellent SlideShare which we publish below.
Posted by News Update at 4:31 PM
We’ve worked on a number of social media campaigns now - many of them very successful. You might remember some of them - Beat Blue Monday is now an annual news feature and Wensleydale Creamery is doing very well too.
But whenever we mention social media to some prospective clients their faces light up as they think social media is free. Social media saves time they think. Social media will save our business thousands, if not millions.
And yes you can save on the equivalent costs from a traditional deadwood media marketing or advertising campaign and better still you can get instant results and measurement. But that level of service does not come cheap - it can if you do it yourself and chuck up a blog, set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account and maybe do something with YouTube.
But what’s your strategy? Do you know what people are saying about you - have you done an audit? What are your objectives? Which social media tools are you going to use?
Just answering those questions demands a lot of expensive time and your costs are already rising.
So let’s do the maths on hours and the development costs of creating blog/microsite, mobile apps, online video, podcasts and then the crucial stuff of social media monitoring and assessment.
So for our hypothetical 12-month campaign for ACME Company we would need: account director for 15 hours a week at £150 an hour, account manager for 30 hours at £85 an hour, account executive on say £65 for 30 hours. Then we chuck in a blog/microsite and some mobile apps and maybe a few widgets – lets say the lot for £20,000. Then there’s the ongoing monitoring, engagement and evaluation for a conservative £30,000. That adds up to £400,000 for the year.
Maybe that’s a bit ambitious but even if you scaled it back to something more palatable - lets cut it in half to £200,000. Still the client is looking a bit green around the gills. But this is probably the same client who thinks nothing of booking a £70,000 page advertisement in the Daily Mail.
We would love to hear about other people’s experiences.
Posted by News Update at 5:13 PM
Posted by News Update at 5:29 PM