House-hunting woes

I’ve been looking for an apartment to move into and for the umpteenth time am struck by the sheer frustration that the house-hunting process involves. Estate agents are more likely than not to make your life hell with their processes, demands and rigid ways of working. At the end of the day, it is the (prospective) tenant that is left holding the baby if something goes wrong, usually at the very last minute, and then you get desperate so as to avoid being on the streets.

Vikram mentioned this to me last year – why doesn’t someone create a site where people can rate estate agents by name and company, as well as landlords (where agents don’t exist)? They can receive an overall score based on their rating by certain criteria: helpfulness, involvement, how personable they are and so on. Think of it as a sort of, except with a real estate angle to it. Buying or renting a property is easily one of the most important decisions a person makes (apart from getting married and selecting a career), and it shouldn’t be something that leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. After all, estate agents aren’t exactly doing what they do for charity – they get a good commission in most cases. And you pay some of that, if not all, so it’s your money at stake. 

There are certain risks of course – most renters are part of the floating population of a city and they may not bother about logging in to rate if they’re going to leave the city soon anyway (though that’s probably changing with the mortgage crisis and more prospective house owners turning to renting as a stop-gap arrangement). On the flip side though, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of opportunity for advertising revenue.


How NOT to do PR

Dear Mark Cooper from Van Communications,

I was absolutely sure that yours was a spam email, but when I checked your company’s website out of curiosity, I learnt that it actually does exist, and worse, you are a PR company! You asked me to comment on a blog post on your company’s website, after asking me how I would ‘spend my last marketing pound’, apparently because Bill Gates said that if he was down to his last dollar, he would spend it on PR. 
I hate to break it to you, but he wouldn’t choose your PR company even if he WAS down to his last dollar and yours was the last PR company left. You have no idea who I am or what I do, you did not even deign to find out my name, and really, your email was probably the worst mass email I have ever seen. I would have linked to you just to point other people to an example of a (really bad) PR company, but to be honest I can’t be bothered and you don’t deserve it. A word of advice: maybe you should read this post by Chris Brogan to help you do your job better.

Interesting, interested, and then?

This is a rant. 

It is not only common sense but a commonly held view in this whole media industry that in order to come up with interesting work, you have to be interesting – and interested – yourself. One would think so. However, from my personal experience of talking to over 40 people in the field, most with over 10 years of experience, I can say that not everyone believes this, or wants to hear about who you are vs. what you can do for them. For example, I do a variety of things and have a whole range of interests, that result in me going to an evening where this year’s Booker Prize-nominated authors read excerpts from their books, attending a contemporary dance performance in a park, watching a couple of independent films at the The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival, going to a couple of art galleries, reading The Black Swan and taking a 3-hour walk around various boroughs of London that I’d never been to before. All this in the span of a few days. You tell me, does that make me interesting?
On the other hand, every time I pop into Jai and Wal’s blog, who are a team of creatives also looking for work in London, I notice the insane amount of negative comments they have saying that all the things they do are advertising-related and that they need to, and I quote, ‘Go skydiving. Visit an art exhibition of a visual style you don’t like. Read a children’s book. Take acid. Something.’ Which would be brilliant except for the fact that I’m trying that route and it’s not working for me. They’re trying the opposite, and it’s not working for them. (The argument of ‘who you are’ vs. ‘what you can do for employers’, remember?)
Does anyone have any useful answers? I’d appreciate it. 

Words from my mouth

Two interesting pieces of information I downloaded recently, both related to the power of word-of-mouth for brands: one, an extract of ‘Conversational Capital’ by Canadian agency Sid Lee from Gareth Kay’s blog, and the other, the Word of Mouth Marketing Manual – Volume II, by Dave Balter from Greg Verdino’s blog. Both are worth a read.

What is the definition of a brand? From Wikipedia, it is “a collection of experiences and associations attached to a company, organization, product or service”. A brand is only worth speaking about, in my opinion, when people start relating to it positively. If it is getting more negative than positive mentions by people, and by default, in the media, then it’s not really a ‘brand’, it’s just some company that’s trying to make itself noticed and isn’t succeeding.

Any company is only as successful as their consumers or users are happy with the experience they have with it, or in the case of potential users, the experience they have when they see people reacting to it. So though I’m not a Mac user, when I think of Apple, I think of the Genius Bar, for example, which is something I’m curiously awed by whenever I visit an Apple store. When I think of Virgin, I think ‘crap’, because I recently had a bad experience with them. When I think of Topshop, I think it’s a name that attracts the crowds and has the high-profile names and all that (Kate Moss), but is stupid enough to make mistakes like directing consumers who e-mail them (which is an option on their site) to call them instead, on a Sunday morning at 11.30 to boot, to book an appointment with their ‘Style Advisor’, even though their website says an e-mail is fine. Beginner’s error: if you can’t do it, don’t advertise it.

At the end of the day, the marketing budget of a company or ‘brand’ is only as good as its basic customer service. Nike has a huge marketing budget but when I saw on Facebook that someone I know had as his status message ‘Nike’s customer service is crap, go Under Armour‘, I thought: well, that’s 702 of his friends that Nike’s got to work that much harder to impress. I know you can’t always impress everybody, but the days of brands spending $X on marketing and reporting to their management that they’ve got Y pages of advertising in Z publications are gone. People talk, and nowadays they can make their opinions heard far and wide thanks to the World Wide Web. And this is global giant Nike, with a massive marketing budget, that I just mentioned. Think of the smaller brands and how much harder they’ll need to work if 700 people around Facebook start dissing their brand. Relate that to Dunbar’s number, at the very minimum.

It’s the reason why, though Orange pissed me off slightly a while ago, Play Balloonacy has actually done something to alleviate that situation.

Thoughts on insight

This presentation on insight by Matthew Milan from Critical Mass led me to thinking about something I’ve been trying to figure out for some time. I’m looking for a job in London at the moment and every time I try calling consultants from my home in New York before I move there next month to enquire about jobs in the broad areas of consumer insight and social media there, the first thing they ask me is how much experience I have in these specific areas. Now I’m no newbie. I’ve worked for three years with Nike, which certainly has one of the biggest brand presences in the consumer world today, and my work had a LOT of the consumer insight aspect built in. But my position there didn’t have ‘consumer insights’ in its name. Same thing for social media, when I was looking for a job in that field last year in New York. As a result, I didn’t and haven’t got too many positive responses yet.

These are areas that straddle way more than just one or two definitions. ‘Consumer insights’, for example, can be gleaned through more than just focus groups or desk research today. And ‘social media’ brings multiple new technologies and platforms into its fold every single day. So on what basis can people ask questions like that?

In the presentation, Britannica’s definition of insight is quoted: “Insight occurs when people recognize relationships or make associations between objects and actions that can help them solve new problems.”

I don’t think these people know how to make associations at all.

And this isn’t a case of sour grapes!