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Archive for September, 2009

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September 28th, 2009

Happy birthday to the smartest kid in the room

Happy birthday to the smartest kid in the room

Google turned 11 over the weekend! Check out its age proclaiming ‘doodle’ below.

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September 24th, 2009

Do we expect too much from technology?

Do we expect too much from technology?

I once saw a stand-up comedian run through a story where he lambasted our current over-expectations of technology. The comedian suggested that instead of being in awe of technological developments, we are impatient and indifferent to the achievements of the technological world.

The comedian described a situation in which he found himself on a plane and excited by the prospect of flying to another country. The comedian talked of his wonder at the miracle of flight, and magnitude of such a giant machine being able to propel him into the air and land him in another part of the world. He then went on to explain how his wonderment at technological advances was increased by the offer of a free trial of in-plane WIFI during the flight. The comedian was amazed by the possibility of being, not only able travel to another country in a giant flying machine, but simultaneously able to stay in contact with the online world while flying through the air.

The comedian’s enthusiasm was slightly tempered during the flight when an announcement revealed that due to a slight bug the WIFI would be unavailable for the remainder of the flight. The comedian’s response to the announcement was a light shrug. For him, the fact that the plane was able to prevent itself from falling out of the sky was impressive enough to negate this setback. However, the passenger to his left was less forgiving and reacted by slamming shut his laptop and stating that the situation was a “bunch of ****.” The flying was apparently not enough for him.

This story brings me to the news this week that comparison site Broadband Expert has conducted a test that reveals UK mobile broadband providers are delivering services that aren’t fast enough, and that mobile internet speeds do not meet those expected by customers.

While it may seem like a worthy gripe, at the same time it might be beneficial for the complaining customer to take a step back and recognise the staggering achievement of information being able to travel through the ether to your computer without the need for wires.

The rapid development of technology has heightened our expectations to a point where we disregard anything that does not meet those expectations, instead of recognising the impressive nature of our surroundings.

The question this raises is whether we are too expectant when it comes to technology, or whether it is our intolerance of any technological deficiency that has catalysed such urgent and productive development. As Charlie Brooker put it “what do they expect me to do – fall off a chair in amazement every time I see a toaster?” (credit to Duncan for that one).

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September 23rd, 2009

Microsoft's takes tablets to the next level

Microsoft's takes tablets to the next level

Microsoft recently announced an innovative dual-screen laptop called the Courier, which will create whole new ways of interacting with a computer. It’s currently in a “late prototype” stage but Gizmodo posted a sneak preview:

It looks absolutely breathtaking and seems to be expanding on the multi-touch concept it introduced with Surface.

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September 22nd, 2009

Microsoft Corp, 1978 (Would you have invested?)

Microsoft Corp, 1978 (Would you have invested?)

Great picture that someone pinned up to our noticeboard:

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September 18th, 2009

Murdoch's Money Mission

Murdoch's Money Mission

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation media empire has always fascinated me, ever since I studied the theory of the news as a bright-eyed journalism student, now more than three years ago. The Murdochs are barely out of the headlines at the moment – if it’s not Rupert, it seems his son James has got to be in on the act as well.

As the current chairman and chief executive of News Corporation (Europe and Asia), James Murdoch caused ripples of dismay (amongst some) last month, when he presented at the MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh, calling for the BBC licence fee to be cut. From his position as a senior executive running a commercial media organisation that sources revenue through advertising and sponsorship, Murdoch claimed that it wasn’t healthy for the media industry to have the BBC offering news content, downloads, video clips and commentary for free on its website.

In recent weeks, News Corporation, owner of Sky News, has been calling for people to pay to access advert-free digital news content (watch the Prompt video about this here). It claims this demand isn’t an unreasonable one: “We trust [customers] every day at the newsstand – why wouldn’t we trust them online?” It’s definitely a big talking point, but many people feel that they are now so accustomed to watching adverts with their news clips, that it really doesn’t cause them enough frustration to cause them to fork out money to watch them without.

The hatred coming from News Corp towards the BBC is nothing new. To be fair to News Corp it must be extremely frustrating to watch its main rival being handed billions on a plate every year by licence payers. But it’s the way in which both Murdochs go about spitting venom at the BBC that becomes embarrassing to watch. This week Mark Thompson, BBC director general, even went so far as to say that James Murdoch lives in a ‘bipolar” universe of market and state. Ouch.

As it stands, Murdoch has stated that all of News Corps’ online newspapers will be charging for content by July next year, and that they already have over a million people paying for this service. It was also announced this week that News Corp would be charging up to USD$2 (£1.22) a week for the mobile versions of its websites.

As a Brit, I love the BBC and without getting too political, I think it’s important that news content should be made available for free at the point of consumption, otherwise people will just ‘switch off’. But I can also appreciate that due to the cultural shift in the ways in which people access news, perhaps now is the time for those that access certain sites everyday to pay a small fee for good, honest news reporting.

The debate rumbles on. What are your views?

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September 16th, 2009

Facebook has broken 300 million users – finally cash flow positive

Facebook has broken 300 million users – finally cash flow positive

So first things first, Facebook has just surpassed 300 million users worldwide. Now, this is not exactly a huge surprise: Facebook is the biggest social network website and so having 300 million users was merely a matter of time. In fact, it hit 250 million back in July, so 300 was the next natural step as it exponentially rises. However, the second piece of news is much more important; Facebook has finally become cash flow positive.

The company had been EBITA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) profitable for quite some time, but had not expected to go cash flow positive until 2010. Back in April, there was a $200 million gap in between it being cash flow positive and their EBITA numbers. It was going to take another 2 years because of the amount of money Facebook had been spending. Things like electricity, new servers, storage centers and rent have cost the company millions of dollars, but due to accountancy practices these could be written off over a long period of time. Had they written off the expenses in full as they paid them, they would be having much bigger losses now that matched cash flow, and they would have hit profitability sooner.

But thanks to increased amount of money coming in and its new photo storage system, Haystack, Facebook’s earnings have now eclipsed its expenses. So the question is, how long until Twitter follows suit?

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September 10th, 2009

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds


Funny thing, the internet. It can allow news to be sent across the world in a single click, but it can also make it disappear again.

On Tuesday, 8 September, Sky News posted an article on its site stating that the whole of the Beatles’ back catalogue would finally be available to buy on iTunes. Then, a few minutes later, the webpage turned completely blank. Nothing.

I’m guessing it was after an angry call from EMI’s press office.

Apparently John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, (never a stranger to controversy) had given an interview stating that the green light had been flashed for the songs to be made available for download on iTunes, stupendously stealing EMI’s and Apple’s thunder for when the announcement was going to officially be released, presumably soon.

Now, even if you don’t count yourself as a fan of the ‘Fab Four’ – you must have heard your Beatles loving friend moaning that they can’t put that all important (and iconic) ‘White’ or ‘Revolver’ album on their mp3 player of choice.

The Beatles’ back catalogue has become a kind of Holy Grail for music lovers who download their music online, with EMI still not giving up the rights for the hundreds of tracks to be made available on Apple’s iTunes store. Why? Because it thinks it will lead to an increase of music piracy of the music. Funny thing is, how does it suppose the back catalogue is available now? Illegally of course. Sigh.

So what have I learnt this week? Sky News has egg on its face but knows how to set the Twitter and blogging community alight. At the same time, The Beatles Rock Band game launched, and has just been given great publicity…

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September 3rd, 2009

Never Mind the Pollacks, Here’s Colin

Never Mind the Pollacks, Here’s Colin


Re-branding and re-launching a product, service or business can often prove to be an expensive, thankless exercise doomed to failure. Just ask the marketing teams behind Corus (British Steel), Consignia (The Post Office), Centrica (British Gas), Thus (Scottish Power) or Aviva (Norwich Union). Personally I’m still smarting after the demise of Opal Fruits (Starburst) and the Marathon bar (Snickers).

But of course sometimes there are spectacular exceptions to the rule and re-branding works a treat. Just look at the stunning rise in popularity of digital TV channel Dave (once UKTVG2), and now, confirmed this week, Sainsbury’s swimmingly successful re-branding of derided cod-fish Pollack… as Colin!

The story behind Colin’s rise to greatness is a complicated one. Basically, before April this year, very few shoppers chose to buy Pollack – despite it being a perfectly tasty fish which is cheap (great in a recession) and environmentally friendly (far more sustainable than its close relation, the over-fished Cod).

The problem wasn’t all in the name, but it certainly wasn’t helping any. People, especially housewives, didn’t like ordering Pollack at the fish counter of their local supermarket one little bit. The name sounded a bit rude you see, and was also associated with cheapness. So in April, Sainsbury’s decided that the humble Pollack needed rebranding, repositioning and repackaging.

Overnight in a string of major outlets, cheap old Pollack in cellophane wrapping, was transformed into friendly sustainable Colin sold in funky boxes designed by Red or Dead founder Wayne Hemingway (in homage to Jackson Pollock, geddit?). A masterstroke, or a waste of money and effort? Only time would tell.

And this week, we got our answer. Colin (a French word for Hake, another Cod-fish, by the way) has now become one of the top seafoods in Britain, according to industry body Seafish, helped by the image overhaul at a time when shoppers are looking for cheaper alternatives in their weekly spend. According to Marketing Magazine: “more than 13,000 tonnes of the pollack species was sold across the UK retail market last year as it came in as the eighth most popular fish.” (Salmon is the most popular, in case you were wondering).

Brilliant, eh? Easy, huh? Just rename your complex acronym-laden technology as ‘Garth’ or ‘Eric’ and you’ll be quids-in! Only of course, it’s only that simple in hindsight, and there are only so many ‘Daves’ and ‘Colins’ the market will put up with before a public backlash. Back in April, you see, the media was far more sceptical, even about Colin. Legally, the naysayers asserted, Sainsbury’s couldn’t “rename a fish species unless it applied for approval through the FSA’s own panel of fish experts”. Cheryl Giovanonni, European president at brand consultancy Landor even told Marketing Week: “At a time when people are looking to the likes of Sainsbury’s to be trustworthy and credible, this move is a bit flippant. It feels like a joke, rather than a serious marketing move.”

So just remember – rebranding is still as inexact a science and as prone to disaster as ever it was. But if you’ve got the Pollacks, you may just hook an enormous success while others let the market share get away…

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September 1st, 2009

Massachusetts and the United States say goodbye to Teddy Kennedy

Massachusetts and the United States say goodbye to Teddy Kennedy

If you live in the United States, you likely will have heard of the passing of Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy. It occurred to me yesterday, however, that those of you who live outside the borders of the U.S. might recognize the Kennedy name but probably don’t have a clear idea who Ted Kennedy was.

A long time representative of the state of Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy served the third longest term in U.S. Senate history (46 years), and became recognized as the ‘liberal lion’ of the Democratic party. He was the last living of the Kennedy dynasty and was the brother of President John F. Kennedy (“JFK”) and Senator Robert F. Kennedy (“RFK”), both assassinated.

As the nation continues to mourn Teddy’s recent passing, here in Massachusetts things feel much closer to home. Billboard memorials seen off of highways, flags flying at half mast, and people wearing Kennedy pins are just a few examples of how the state has responded to his death.

As a Massachusetts native, Teddy Kennedy lived in the town of Hyannis Port on Cape Cod and was well known as a man who was visible throughout his community and his home state. The state and the nation’s response has been overwhelming since news hit of his death last week, Tuesday August 25.

His funeral was held this past weekend on Saturday, in the Boston neighborhood of Mission Hill where President Barack Obama gave his eulogy.

During the course of Teddy Kennedy’s political career, he made it the ‘cause of his life‘ to work toward universal health care and continued to be closely involved with the Obama administration as they continued their work toward making this a reality for the American people.

As the debates over nationalized health care continue throughout the U.S., and as his beloved state of Massachusetts moves to fill his long occupied Senate seat, Americans remember Ted Kennedy as a distinguished voice of the Democratic party, but most of all for the love and service he spent his life giving to his country.

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September 1st, 2009

Adeptra appoints Prompt as North American PR agency

Adeptra appoints Prompt as North American PR agency

Prompt Communications to represent North American operations of Auto-resolution™, collections and fraud prevention specialist

Boston, MA – September 1, 2009 – Adeptra, a global provider of automated services for creating two-way dialog with customers for fraud prevention and collections, has appointed Prompt Communications, a specialist in digital PR, marketing and social media communications, as its North American public relations agency.

Adeptra provides automated customer contact and resolution software that enhances the relationship between financial institutions and their customers by improving the efficiency of consumer credit and risk management operations. With North American headquarters in Norwalk, CT, Adeptra has an international client base that includes top tier financial institutions in Europe and North America, such as 8 of the top 10 US financial institutions, and 9 of the top 10 UK card issuers.

Prompt is a digital PR and marketing consultancy with a strong background in technology. Its US team and offices are located in Boston and San Francisco.

The Prompt account team will work in tandem with Adeptra’s UK agency, NSPR, to improve recognition of Adeptra globally. Prompt will raise awareness of Adeptra’s products in the technology and finance industries by securing regular, high-profile coverage in the national, business, financial and IT media across North America. Working with Adeptra, Prompt will drive a comprehensive media relations strategy to support and facilitate Adeptra’s rapid growth in the North American market.

Gavin Bradbury, global marketing director of Adeptra, said, “We are impressed with Prompt’s range of expertise and the enthusiasm of the team. We feel confident that Prompt will provide us with the best possible representation to get us in front of key influencers across our range of target audiences.”

Hazel Butters, CEO of Prompt Communications, said: “Prompt is eager to get to work on new campaigns for Adeptra. There are now so many threats to consumer security and so many opportunities for fraud that the services Adeptra provides have the potential to benefit consumers in a significant way. Because of this, we cannot wait to introduce Adeptra to journalists throughout North America.”

About Adeptra

Adeptra is the global market leader in Auto-resolution™: technology that automates key call centre interactions to reduce their cost and dramatically increase performance. Applications are fully integrated, industry-specific solutions for business processes such as fraud detection, payment reminders and opt-in marketing.

Distinct from less sophisticated auto-dialler systems, Adeptra combines recorded dialogue with state of the art natural language to reach out to individual customers and personally engage with them about important, time-sensitive issues. Adeptra is able to make thousands of customer contacts simultaneously and achieves higher levels of portfolio penetration and produces significantly better results than human agents alone. The resolutions it secures are delivered into clients’ computer systems for reporting and analysis.

About Prompt Communications

Founded in January 2002, Prompt Communications is a communications agency with European offices in Chiswick, London and US offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California.

Prompt Communications offers expertise across all marketing disciplines, teaming its consultants’ extensive knowledge of start-ups, technology market with experience of pan-European and American media, analyst and marketing campaigns. Using highly targeted marketing, PR, analyst relations, social media and corporate copywriting initiatives, Prompt helps its clients gain the visibility they need to achieve their business objectives, from increasing sales to enhancing reputation with stakeholders.

For further information:
Prompt UK
Max McConnell

Tel: +44 20 8996 1650 / +44 7780 687813

Prompt US
Laurie Santalucia
Tel: +1 617 401 2716

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