29 June 2009

Do you make brands that you don't like, pay?

Google serps page
Got an ethics question for you...

How many times does this happen to you, and what do you do about it?

You could take a stab at guessing the web address of a brand, but you use your favourite search engine to find it (for 80+% of us, that means Google).

You are now presented with a choice. Click on the organic link or click on their text ad, in which case they will pay whatever they bid for their name as a key phrase... say 50p.

Not so long back the company would have bid a minimum price - 5p or 10p - for their own name as a keyword, but in a controversial move last year *, Google opened up the Adword bidding on brand names to rivals, so now it can get quite competitive... especially in the travel sector.

So, what do you do?

I nearly always click the organic link.... but sometimes, just sometimes, if it's a brand I don't particularly care for...

*In May 08, Google changed its policy on companies being allowed to bid on their rivals' trademarks. It allows advertisers to bid on any brand names, but prevents them from using a rival's trademark in the text of the ad that appears in the sponsored search slot.

23 June 2009

Is the embargo dead? Well this one is!

Laterooms promotional pic: Couple in bed in London DungeonThere was much chatter about the role of the media embargo in a faster moving Web 2.0 world at the start of the year.

It started with the Techcrunch announcement that they would no longer honour embargoes, and occupied 'the conversation' for a while (here are a couple of blogs on the subject: Shel Holz, In Media ). The general view seemed to be that embargoes are a relic from the age of print, but they might have a role if used properly.

I've never knowingly broken an embargo. But I'm about to.

At 09.58 this morning Mischief PR sent out a press release with jpegs for their client, Laterooms.com. It's a story about creating a single night room in the London Dungeon. In the first line of the first para it has a clear embargo in bold type: Embargoed until 00.01 on Wednesday, 24th June 2009

Later this morning the Mail Online and Guardian Travel published the story, and later Times Online Twitpic-ed it.

It's no big deal (in fact, in the scheme of things it's a very samll deal), but I was a little irritated because I had been sitting on it. I set up a query on my Twitter moniter to see if there were any others breaking the story... and found it on Laterooms' own site.

No doubt that's why the Mail, Guardian & Times ignored the embargo... and why I'm about to. (Let me know, guys, if I guessed right!)

Question for Mischief PR: Why, in a boy-who-cried-wolf way, should we pay attention to any future embargoes you may seek?

Question for other PRs and the rest of you: Are embargoes irrelevant in an online world where lead times can be counted in minutes & seconds and media outlets in tens of thousands?

18 June 2009

Rail journeys are getting faster - which ones do you think I mean?

Thalys trainThere was an important travel moment on Sunday, but looking through travel blogs and mainstream news sites, virtually nobody noticed.

Funny though.* They all noticed today's news about South Eastern's 140mph high-speed commuter train... and missed the completion of Belgium's high speed network, which means Brussels and Paris are now directly connected to Cologne and into Germany's high speed rail network.

That means you can go to the Deutche Bahn UK website (yes, there is one) and buy a cheap high-speed rail ticket from St Pancras to Cologne via Paris Nord (change trains), a journey of 4¾ hours...and on to Berlin!

* Not really! Don't get me started on how insular this little country is - obsessed with itself, or what the Americans are up to thousands of miles away across the Atlantic, and totally dis-interested in our neighbours 22 miles away across the Channel!

08 June 2009

Penguin & WH Smith - The big guidebook fuss

My guidebook-writing chums in the BGTW are furious about the reported deal between Penguin Books and WH Smith that will lock out other guidebook publishers from WH Smith transport outlets.

The Bookseller broke the story and I have been one of those who have left comments at the bottom of the original article.

On the face of it, the issue seems to be a straightforward assault on consumer choice.

Shoppers at 450 branches of WH Smiths at railway stations, motorway service stations and airports will be offered only guidebooks from Rough Guides and Dorling Kindersley (and Alastair Sawdays accommodation directories - he's an ex-guildie by the way).

So, what's the problem? Rough Guides are excellent guidebooks, and although DK are viewed with considerably less enthusiasm by the writers I know, they are very popular with travellers... and I quite like them too.

Well the problem is choice. Shoppers at those 450 branches won't find guidebooks from the likes of Berlitz, Frommers, Fodor, Michelin, The AA, Thomas Cook, Insight, Bradt, Globetrotters, Time Out, Blue Guides, Footprint, Lonely Planet and a host of others, and there are, of course, destinations that the Penguin imprints (DK, Rough Guides) simply don't cover. Their portfolio of titles is pretty comprehensive in North America, South America and Europe, less strong in the Middle East and Asia, and downright patchy in Africa. So not only are there plenty of destinations not offered, but there are also sub-destinations not covered. For example, A businessman on short trip to Kuala Lumpur wouldn't find a cityguide in WH Smith at the airport, just DK's Malaysia & Singapore guide.

But like most things in life, it's not quite that black & white.

The reality is, bookshops can't carry stock to cover every destination and anyway, not many guidebooks are sold in these locations. Most people buy guidebooks well before they depart and usually from Amazon. So streamlining the product range is probably not such a big deal. Booksellers, including WH Smith, are not after the "long tail". They want to offer as many of the most popular books to their customers as they efficiently can. Besides, one guidebook publisher told me "they didn't use to stock our books in those stores anyway". Furthermore, other than at airports, consumers have a choice. They can walk out of WH Smiths and walk into Borders or Waterstones instead. And, as one of the other commentators pointed out, if all else fails you can always buy a guidebook at the destination itself!

So what is the fuss about?

Well, for guidebook writers...they see it as just another assault on their standards & pay if their non-Penguin books are booted out of WH Smiths.

For me... I don't have a problem with Penguin & WH Smith's right to cut such a deal. (I think they should be feeling pretty pleased with themselves!) Nor am I so bothered about the motorway and railway outlets - they would probably only stock domestic titles anyway, and would-be customers can always shop elsewhere. I'm more concerned with the airport situation.

I think there is a small problem there. It's not caused by Penguin's exclusive deal with WH Smith. It's caused by the combination of Penguin's exclusive deal with WH Smith....and WH Smith's exclusive deal with BAA. It creates a faintly ridiculous situation where, for a year, travellers flying from the UK's major airports will not be able to buy a guidebook to some destinations on routes from that airport.

The Bookseller quotes somebody from WH Smith suggesting that trials had indicated that the move would make travel guide shopping "easier for the customer", as travel customers were "extremely time pressed". Yeah! Maybe at a rail station, but that's clearly not true for airports where retail units plunder the pockets of a captive market with time to kill. If air passengers were "time pressed" I very much doubt WH Smith's deal with BAA would even exist!