Archive for June, 2009

The EU is not making its case

Posted in Uncategorized on June 4, 2009 by Tom Leatherbarrow

My thoughts in the last few days have turned increasingly towards Europe and, strangely enough, it has nothing to do with the summer holidays and me doing my bit to help shrink the European Union’s wine lake.

Today’s European elections have led, once again, to a debate about the merits of British membership of the European Union (EU). Frankly, although I would regard myself as moderately pro-European, I’m now getting bored of trying to defend the EU when it does so little to defend itself.

Did you know, for example, that the West Midlands has secured £575m in European Structural Funds that has been allocated to more than 400 projects across the region in the last six years? Were you aware that the European Social Fund has given more than £316m for West Midlands projects to support education and training to combat long term unemployment?

Would you like to know about some of the projects that this money has been spent on in our region? Well, so would I.

Now it may be that I’m a particularly hopeless Google searcher, but I cannot find a single case study or press release on the internet to help explain how EU money has helped the West Midlands. I know it’s been spent, but I cannot find out where it’s been spent and what the effects are.

This communication vacuum is a godsend to the UK Independence Party and anti-EU activists in the mainstream parties and media, allowing them to redirect the debate towards alleged corruption and bureaucracy. The Sun screaming that “MEPs are all millionaires in five years” is a case in point.

On Sunday, when the results become known, it is likely that fringe parties like UKIP, who advocate total withdrawal from the EU, will make big gains. EU Commissioners will be heard, once again, to complain that all the British really want is a vast free trade area, on the lines of the original Treaty of Rome, and are not interested in closer economic and political integration.

My answer to that is: if you don’t communicate with people you cannot expect their support.

Clearing out the dead wood

Posted in business on June 3, 2009 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The demise of LDV yesterday is a bitter blow to both the van manufacturer, its workforce and the company’s supply chain, but it was probably inevitable. I had hoped that Weststar had a plan for the company’s future, niche green or biofuel vans or something, but in all honesty it was always going to be a long shot.

However, as we begin what is likely to be the long and tortuous process of lifting ourselves out of recession, one or two things are becoming increasingly clear, namely that this recession will probably be more cleansing than catastrophic. The fear, as little as 3-4 months ago, was that good businesses of all sizes would be forced to the wall because of the dire economic news. That concern is now beginning to lift as the credit markets thaw and lending begins again as banks get used to their new status of being publicly owned.

With hindsight, we may therefore look back on this recession as being a cathartic clearing out of dead wood companies that have teetered on the brink, even in the good times. LDV will now unfortunately go into history alongside another acronym, MFI, and other companies which have failed to keep pace with the times, such as Woolworths and Whittards of Chelsea.

The path to insolvency for each of these companies was eerily familiar. A gradual loss of market share and consumer confidence, management buy-outs promising to resurrect the brands, fierce competition from massive, often global companies, able to exploit huge economies of scale, failure to adapt to changing market dynamics and an inability to identify and seize opportunities.

A former colleague of mine who advised Whittards told me once that the company really missed the boat with the explosion of the coffee shop culture of the late 90s and the rise of Starbucks. It limped on for a while, but the end was inevitable. The same goes for LDV.

A Necessary Evil?

Posted in Uncategorized on June 1, 2009 by Tom Leatherbarrow

According to a recent survey by the PRCA, AVE is still the evaluative method of choice for most PRs – funny that, since anecdotal evidence suggests that most of us aren’t big fans.

The reality, of course, is that the majority of PRs only use it (albeit in tandem with other more qualitative methods) for want of a truly viable alternative. And while the debate over AVE’s credibility as a method continues to rage on, we seem to be no closer to finding our evaluative holy grail.

AVE is an inexact science which reduces all the many subleties and nuances of a great PR campaign to the most basic level. It ignores all manner of vital campaign elements – not least the individual PR needs of the client – and encourages a culture of going after the big hit titles with sky high ad rates instead of working out what will really benefit your client in the long run.

From a footfall-driving perspective, it’s far more valuable for a small independent retailer in Birmingham to get half a page splash in the Birmingham Mail than a double page spread in The Times – but the AVE ruling will always find in favour of the paper with the highest circulation.

What’s more, the entire concept of AVE is fundamentally flawed. Equating editorial with advertising is like comparing oranges with apples – hence the popularity of the ‘PR value’ school of thought, which multiplies the AVE by three on the basis that you’re three times more likely to read, recall and retain a piece of editorial than an advert. And don’t even get me started on online PR measurement, for which there appears to be no consistent methods at all.

Regardless of what approach you take, there’s no escaping the fact that measuring the success of PR just isn’t that cut and dried. But in today’s economic climate, the pressure to justify the value of what we do and prove to clients that PR is making a difference to their bottom lines is greater than ever.

Monitoring key messages and developing complex KPIs can certainly appear impressive, but in essence it’s pretty simple: clients like numbers. Better than that, they like big numbers (except when we’re talking fees, of course). And if you can’t provide those all-important number-crunching stats, it’s very difficult for clients to argue your case to the big boss when budget review time comes around.

Love them or hate them, AVEs are still a part of the PR system for many of us. And, until the industry comes up with something better, they’ll continue to be – as long as we are ruled by market forces which demand we prove our worth in a lingo that everyone understands: the language of money.

Fortunately for those of us who work in the retail & leisure sector, there’s another, far more telling indicator of a PR campaign’s success: footfall. Because if you tell them, they will come. (Well, if you tell them in a way that’s engaging, relevant and using the right media channels.) With footfall figures, there’s nothing to hide behind, no numerical wizardry involved – just cold, hard, indisputable facts. Now there’s a thought.