Monthly Archives: April 2010

“Mobile advertising really sucks!”

So proclaimed Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week. It’s obviously a sideswipe at his old chums Google, but also heralds the launch of ‘iAd’ – his next ‘revolution in waiting’. What is iAd? In essence, it’s a brand new mobile advertising system – the point of difference being that, if someone clicks on an ad within a free iPhone app, they’ll no longer get transported off somewhere else. Instead, the ads simply stay within the app. Financially speaking, developers get to keep 60% of the ad revenues and Apple gets the other 40.

The real opportunity for us advertising folk is in the richness of the potential content. Jobs talks of highly interactive video content – all within the app itself. In fact, his ultimate objective is not just to deliver interaction, but emotion too. Bring it on I say! Also, in terms of reach, we can’t ignore the marketdomination of the iPhone
at the moment. There are millions upon millions and, if the iPad catches on, there’ll be even more opportunities.

Done right, the possibilities are endless. Mobile advertising will finally come of age and realise its potential. However, just like any other medium, a campaign’s success will depend on whether it genuinely engages with the recipient. I can already see the future – media-rich but dull-as-ditch-water ads by financial titans… living forever in my iPhone. In the wrong hands, interactivity and video can simply serve to prolong one’s agony and become an excuse for being uncreative! Mr Jobs has thrown down the gauntlet, let’s use it wisely.

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The politics of social media and CLTs (career limiting tweets)

I feel sympathy for Stuart MacLennan but his case shows that a lot people still do not get social media, and Twitter specifically, or seem to understand they are in the personal publishing business no different from a blog.

He isn’t the first social media casualty and he probably won’t be the last, he’s just the one who made the front pages in the same week that John Prescott urged supporters to engage in click fraud and a week after UKIP PPC Paul Wiffen was suspended after hitting out at a blog post highlighting the party’s immigration policy.

Who knows how MacLennan would have fared trying to take on the SNP’s Angus Robertson in Margaret Ewing’s old seat, but he showed he was the wrong candidate.

When I first heard it I did the same thing that Labour Party officials did. My reactions was: “he’s being held up for tweets that he wrote a year ago? That seems harsh”.

On reflection (and by reflection I mean reading his tweets) he had to go as he crossed the line. Some have bizarrely called for MacLennnan to be given a break with Rory Sutherland writing a piece on the Spectator site and tweeting “Reinstate the Moray One. Appalling Twittergate treatment of Lab candidate”.

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Searching for votes: What would Google do?

Many newspaper and broadcast
outlets are tasking specific journalists with producing shiny features on how
the internet is making this election different to all the rest and in the last
couple of days it’s been coverage of
political parties’ search strategies
, or
the more easy-to-explain end of that, search ads.

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Pick up the gauntlet and pick a politician

With a General Election where there’s no Obama-type
candidate to vote for, just individuals and parties that you want to vote
against, switching the focus of Albion’s successful slapping meme to the party
leaders is providing useful barometer in what could be a unique election.

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Editor’s blog: Let’s hear it for middle managers

‘Middle manager’ has become a term of derision in the UK. But they have the hardest job.

Before I wound up a journalist, I spent an entirely unsuccessful and deeply unhappy year as a junior manager in the civil service. The Medical Research Council, to be precise. Day One, aged 23, I was put in charge of four young people of roughly my age who’d been there a while. I was the fat-headed, clueless, arrogant graduate fast-track trainee with no experience or training whatsoever. It was like a lesser version of a teenage junior officer in 1915 trying to lead his platoon out of the trench and over the top. I had no idea how to motivate, communicate with or listen to people. One of them once burst into tears at an awkward moment and I had no idea where to look, never mind what to do.

In the world of management, how much fun is it to be stuck in the middle? For some strange reason the term “middle manager” has become one of derision in the UK. Suspended in a seventh circle of hell between the bosses, like Bart Becht on £90 million a year, who live in the powerful heights at the top of the pyramid and those salt-of-the-earth toilers who mine the coal face at bottom, the middle manger’s realm is the meat – or maybe the fish paste – in the workplace sandwich.

This is so unfair. Just ask any middle manager. Those in the middle are the doers, those who have to get their hands dirty executing the strategy, those who struggle with the everyday difficulties and hard-calls of business life. They are the people who have to deliver bad news to the troops – in person. It’s a skill and it’s not a science, either. You could read every business book about management ever written – and there have been Amazon rain forests of them – but it won’t make you a perfect manager.

That said, our new book ‘The MT Management Masterclass’, just published, is one of the best management primers I’ve ever come across. It’s wise, illuminating and fun. Along with the Private Eye Annual and the Viz Profanisaurus, it’s a must for any loo or bedside table.

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Asda wants its mums to blog the election

move by Asda. It has taken its line about “Asda mums” and hopped onto
the election bandwagon. And why not? We’re told it is going to be the
Mumsnet election so what better place for the supermarket to be.

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Editor’s blog: Unilever boss says leaders must take the long view

As Paul Polman highlights, the established method of running large companies is looking increasingly troublesome.

An interesting FT interview with the low-profile Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, almost got lost over the Easter weekend. It was conducted by Stefan Stern, an MT Contributing Editor. In it, Polman took issue with the City and its idea of what constitutes ‘shareholder value’. (He was echoing some sentiments expressed recently by Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, who is having a rather good time of it at the moment).

‘I do not work for the shareholder, to be honest; I work for the consumer, the customer,’ said Polman. ‘I discovered a long time ago that if I focus on doing the right thing for the long term to improve the lives of consumers and customers all over the world, the business results will come… I’m not driven and I don’t drive this business model by driving shareholder value. I drive this business model by focusing on the consumer and customer in a responsible way, and I know that shareholder value can come.’

Doing the right thing for the long term is a tricky business. It demands discipline and integrity. The long term view doesn’t come easy to outfits like Goldman Sachs. Not when they can quickly fill their boots by taking bets against their own clients in search of easy money (however much they might claim they were just hedging their position).

Unilever’s relationship with the City is a slightly uneasy one. It has already stopped offering guidance to the market on what’s going on inside the organisation. ‘It is very easy for me to get tremendous results very short term, get that translated into compensation and be off sailing in the Bahamas. But the goal for this company – and it’s very difficult to do – the goal is to follow a four- or five-year process. We need to change the strategy and the structure as well as the culture’.

As time goes on, the old established joint stock method of running large companies looks increasingly troublesome. What do the Cadburys now think about cashing in the family chips a few generations back? In the long term it has been a disaster. Cadbury the company will be a much diminished thing in the hands of Kraft.

I make no apologies for directing you again to the highly interesting MT roundtable discussion ‘Whose Company Is IT Anyway’, which featured the thoughts of (amongst others) Will Hutton and Adrian Beecroft of Apax. It didn’t come up with any easy answers.

On the subject of short-termism – take the increase in National Insurance contributions, which caused so many business leaders to protest last week. This is nothing more than a tax on jobs – an easy and lazy way of raising cash when you don’t have the moral or political courage to balance the books by making long overdue cuts in public expenditure. Politicians do find it so difficult to take the long view, especially when – for the next four weeks – we have a rare opportunity to hold them by the short and curlies.

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Labour’s misfiring Quattro ad shows crowd sourcing limitations

Shocking as it is David Cameron has been shown in a positive light after Labour’s create your own ad competition gifted one to the Tories who were able to turn the depiction of their leader as 80s throwback DCI Gene Hunt on its head. Fair play to them.

The poster and the line are good. No doubt about it, but so was what the Tories were able to do with it. The original poster replaces DCI Gene Hunt’s head from ‘Ashes to Ashes’ with that of Cameron’s. You could on the surface see why it might work. Hunt first from the excellent ‘Life of Mars’ and then in the not so great ‘Ashes’ is a boozy male chauvinist pig with a flashy car from the decade of social conflict and deep divide.

But Hunt is also a cult figure with a nice repertoire of one liners that includes “Fire up the Quattro…”. The Tories were able to nicely adapt to read: “Fire up the Quattro, it’s time for change” to chime with their lame campaign slogan and instantly give Cameron the appeal that he appears to lack. That is the story being played out across the press in The Times, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph among many others.

Apparently Tories around central office have t-shirts and mugs with the slogan “Fire up the Quattro, it’s time for change” printed on them and Cameron has declared himself “flattered” to be compared to Hunt. You can see why. People like Hunt.

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The real value of crowdsourcing

How can we use the principle of crowd sourcing in politics? The last couple of weeks have seen Labour and the Conservatives attempt to get their supporters involved in the campaign with strikingly different results.

Last Wednesday we launched “Your Budget Response“, a project that put the collective wisdom of the British public to work on helping to unpick the small print in this year’s Red Book.

As an opposition party, there’s an obvious asymmetry of resources between us and the Government – who have a huge number of civil servants at their disposal. A project like this is an attempt to level the playing field by encouraging anyone with access to a computer to join our team, pore over the figures and find the “devil in the detail”.

The submissions (over 1000 of them) were sent direct to our Treasury team for further analysis. And we got some great stuff which, now that the Budget debate is over, we’ll be publishing on over the coming days.

This exercise proves that George Osborne’s “army of armchair auditors” is definitely out there, ready and willing to go through the figures and hold the Government to account – uncovering the truth behind any manipulated stats or misleading economics.

The idea for the site was itself sourced from the crowd. The blogger Dizzy Thinks (his fantastic blog also an example of what can happen when politics and technology collide) pointed out that Gordon Brown’s “10p tax con” (the unraveling of which was the defining moment of the 2008 budget) was first spotted by bloggers and that the Conservatives should take this as an indication of the level of expertise that could potentially be tapped into.

In contrast, Labour have invited their supporters to submit ideas or designs for their next poster, which will be displayed on 10 digital ad sites in London and Manchester over Easter weekend.

They’re displaying the shortlist over on the Labour website just now, and while I don’t really want to get into the aesthetics, it’s really striking how negative and personal the majority of the adverts are.

I guess time will tell whether Labour’s foray into crowd sourcing pays off for them, but I can’t help but wonder if they’re tapping into “the wisdom of crowds” or just the hostility of the hardcore activist.

Craig Elder (@craigelder)

Online Communities Editor, The Conservative Party

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Editor’s blog: Say bye-bye to EMI?

The end may be nigh for EMI, which has just breached its banking covenants. But it didn’t have to be this way.

This now looks to be the endgame for EMI. The hapless music group has just broken its banking covenants, after being forced to admit defeat in its latest effort to raise £120m to keep its debtors at bay. Terra Firma, Guy Hands’ private equity house, now faces the prospect of having to hand EMI over to Citigroup – from whom he borrowed the billions to make the purchase in the first place. What an unwholesome mess.

Hands is like the proverbial bull in a china shop – charging in with the ridiculous sum of £4.2bn in his pockets back in 2007, buying the place and then smashing it all up. As a result, this once noble British company is heading for complete dismemberment at the tender hands of KKR and Warner. Make no mistake, this is something to be regretted. Those who refuse to despair when they observe the terrible decline of British manufacturing over the last 50 years usually console themselves by saying: ‘Well, we’re still really good at finance and the creative industries. Why bash metal when you can earn your keep with tidier and higher-kudos industries like these?’ Fine – except we appear to be faltering on these fronts as well.

The point is that EMI need not have wound up in this state. As we showed in our interview with the recently departed CEO Elio Leoni-Sceti, the fortunes of the company aren’t so awful at the moment. What has throttled it are the borrowings. So if it hadn’t had that ludicrous amount of debt around its neck – common to so many private equity deals – it might still have struggled through. But the bankers must be paid, and now EMI may be toast.

As for Guy Hands’ lawsuit against Citigroup, which alleges they conned him into paying too much in the first place – well, irrational exuberance leads to many dumb buys. But, however buoyant the market, you don’t offer to pay ten million quid for a run-down two bed semi in Brixton, just because the likely lad from Foxtons convinces you there are ten eager buyers round the corner ready to stump up nine million for it. Salespeople have a phrase for this kind of buyer behaviour: ‘There’s one born every minute’.

Hands’ epitaph, as he sits in tax exile in Guernsey, may well be contained in the lyrics of the winsome Vida la Vita from EMI artist Coldplay: ‘One minute I held the key/ Next the walls were closed on me/ And I discovered that my castles stand/ Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand.’

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