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To code or not to code – it’s no longer a question

By Gemma Smith

Our lives are overrun by code. No longer content with numerical values and Chinese animals, the UK government has decided that this year is also the Year of Code. Coding is what makes it possible for us to use many of the services we rely on every day: web browsers, operating systems, phone apps, social networks, even the Atomic website - they’re all made with code.

Coding can be surprising too. Did you know that seven of the top 100 billionaires in the world know how to code? Or that Ada Lovelace is regarded as the world’s first computer programmer thanks to an algorithm she described in 1982?

Traditionally, the dark art of software coding was seen as the domain of socially awkward blokes with a love of comic books and video games. However, as the millennial generation has come of age, it’s suddenly become the cool new skill to learn and has been adopted by hipsters not content with simply making craft beer and knitting. Knitting is even being advocated as a great tool to help people learning to code.

As Atomic’s resident geek, I’ve tried my hand at coding a couple of times and have played around with various languages such as HTML and Scratch. At the moment I’m giving Python a whirl, one of the more user-friendly high-level programming languages. It’s a little Matrix-like, with rows and rows of data filling up your screen as you give the system new instructions, but it’s incredible to realise that you can create something which seems so complex with just a handful of letters and symbols.

Regardless of coding’s new trendy status and increased uptake, there has been a growing belief that there aren’t enough skilled IT workers to support our burgeoning digital economy. As a result, everyone from the technology heavyweights of Google, Microsoft and Facebook to the tiny tech start-ups filing up East London have been throwing in their two cents on how to fix this problem. Coding at a young age is certainly the popular answer.

As a result of this, from September 2014 every child in the UK aged 5-16 years old will learn coding as part of the school curriculum, which will make the UK the first G20 economy in the world to implement this on a national level. Teaching coding to children is a great way to reaffirm the UK as a leading technology economy, - the aim is that these children will be filling the much talked about skills gap as they learn how to manipulate systems, create apps and build computers.

Discussing this with some of our technology clients, you quickly understand the impact this will have as these coding schoolchildren grow up and enter the workplace, hopefully eliminating the IT skills shortage that is blighting UK businesses. The potential for new discoveries and business advancement is endless. As more and more people learn to write code, we could see virtual reality finally merge with our real world, we could have programs that better predict and plan for natural disasters or even algorithms that can bring us closer to finding a cure for cancer by enabling researchers to study and process critical, complex data in new ways.

Coding is already transforming the world around us and will continue to do so. It’s given us some incredible things including virtual reality, mobile applications and computers which can predict the future. One thing is for certain though: I don’t think Ada Lovelace’s code in 1982 would have been able to predict how much coding enabled us to do.

Campo Viejo Streets of Spain is here

By Amy Ronge

We’re proud to announce that a campaign we’ve been busy working on, Campo Viejo Streets of Spain, arrives on London’s South Bank this weekend.

The world’s largest multisensory wine experiment, a Blend Your Own Wine masterclass and delicious food straight from La Boqueria are just some of the sights you can expect to enjoy over the weekend.

After an incredibly successful media preview of the Campo Viejo Colour Lab, the world’s largest multisensory wine experiment, which secured us coverage in the Sunday Telegraph, The Times and Mail Online to name a few, the experiment lands on the South Bank on the weekend. With over 2,000 people expected to take part in this free experiment, participants will find out about their ‘taster status’ as well as experience a colour, sound and wine immersion like never before.

If you enjoy Spanish wine, and Spanish food (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), then head down to the South Bank this weekend and have a wander through the Streets of Spain. You may even spot our smiling faces if you’re lucky.

Look out for our live updates on Twitter and Facebook, and find out more about Streets of Spain here.

Newshijacking: five simple steps to get started

By Susie Wyeth

As part of our ongoing “lunch and learn” series I was tasked with taking a session on best practice newshijacking. Newshijacking is one of my PR passions and at Atomic it’s important that we share our skills and make sure we are constantly developing as PR professionals.

Now I love a good last minute opportunity. There’s nothing like seeing a news story about to break and being able to place your client or business within it as an expert commentator or use it as an opportunity to see for a product. There are plenty of examples out there of where newshijacking has been done well: Oakley providing sunglasses to the Chilean miners as they were rescued after 69 days trapped in the subterranean darkness and Oreo tweeting whilst a blackout stopped play at the Superbowl that you can still “dunk in the dark”.

I love these examples; they are simple, social and were really effective for the brands. Working with business to business brands can sometimes prove more challenging when it comes to effective newshijacking. Nevertheless, we’ve seen real success recently positioning our client Citizenme as an expert on personal data management within the Facebook/WhatsApp buyout conversations and involving Teleplan in the CEX/CashConverters story on wiping personal data from resold smartphones.

Here are my tips for newshijacking:
1. Getting the right sources. With so many news outlets and social media channels, it can be a real challenge to spot the opportunities. Twitter is by no means the only source for spotting opportunities, but it is absolutely vital for me. It’s a fantastic way to pick up the conversations of our target media and influencers and literally see news breaking.
2. Filter the noise. I use TweetDeck to manage information. I’ve got a split of media outlets, journalists, fellow PRs, businesses and of course hashtags. You have to find the way that best works for you, but this currently works for me and enabled us to spot at an early stage when Natwest/RBS, then Lloyds and more recently Nationwide suffered IT glitches and ensure our client Delphix was involved in the breaking news.
3. Keep it short. If you are supplying written comment then it needs to be something that can be simply added into benefit an article. Journalists don’t have time to trawl through lengthy comment looking for the interesting bits.
4. Add to the conversation. No one wants to hear “me too” comment. Valuable comment educates the reader or offers an alternative perspective.
5. Talk to the media. As ever, nothing beats a conversation with a journalist. Talk to your target media, are they covering the story? What is their angle? How can you complement the piece?

If you are new to the concept of newshijacking, or a seasoned pro, you might find News Jacking – How to inject your ideas into a breaking news story and generate tons of media coverage by David Meerman Scott (Available from Amazon for Kindle - £4.32 a useful resource. It’s just a short read cover to cover, and serves as a great tool to dip in and out of day to day. Scott’s book is great for emphasising the fundamental best practices of newshijacking that we can use to make sure our clients are at the heart of the breaking news. Scott sums up newshijacking nicely:

“That’s the power of newsjacking. It creates a level playing field – literally anyone can newsjack – but that new level favors players who are observant, quick to react, and skilled at communicating.”

What is PR analytics anyway?

By Judy Wilks A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference run by PR Moment on the topic of PR Analytics. I have to say: it wasn’t what I had expected. It turned out to be an interesting romp through the world of PR measurement, with some real-world examples, a couple of sales pitches and a wee dose of the obligatory self-flagellation that we in the PR industry seem to like to indulge in. I had expected an exploration of the use of data and analytics in PR to underpin strategy, creative and execution – in the way that businesses are now starting to use analytics to make data-driven decisions and even predict future customer behaviours. And to be sure, there was an element of this in the discussion. The energetic Chris Foster of Booz Allen Hamilton talked about the evolution from analysis of historical events with the goal of avoiding past mistakes to predictive analytics. He highlighted, for example, how the ability to predict how people might react to a particular issue based on previous behaviour could be of enormous value to crisis preparedness. Will MacInnes of Brandwatch gave us interesting glimpses into the future of social listening – including the ability to spot and act upon ‘intent to purchase’ language on social. Ketchum’s Ben Levine talked about the use of research in PR. Measuring impact Largely, however, the conference focused on how the PR industry can measure its impact better. There’s a general consensus that we’re moving in the right direction from measuring output (activity) to outtakes (audience perceptions) to outcomes (audience actions) and there were some great insights into how the likes of Philips, eBay and HMRC (from @robinwryly – my personal favourite) are currently doing it. And AMEC’s Richard Bagnall reminded us that the business goal should always be our starting point for setting metrics, making sure that we measure what matters as opposed to what’s easy to measure. So where does this leave us? Is PR analytics just about proving PR’s value or about improving the PR process? I would say both. Sadly, as an industry, we’re still working on the former and that’s distracting us from the latter. It seems to me that a large reason we haven’t got there yet is lack of access to the data – and I suspect this problem will be fixed in the pretty near future. Comms departments are more and more getting access to web analytics and sales data (and, where necessary, proxies such as demo requests, google searches, etc), which will quickly give us a much clearer idea of PR’s impact on customer behaviour. Yes, it means another skill for the PR person to learn, but we’re used to that. Analytics should lead to strategy What I’m really interested in, however, is where measurement tips over into strategy. Once we’ve measured the impact of PR, how do we then use that information for future strategy? After all, that is surely the purpose of analytics – not just to produce figures, but to analyse them and draw insights for the future. We might as well all go home now if PR ‘analytics’ is just about justifying our existence. There’s no substitute for real thought and creativity in PR (or indeed any discipline) but insights from data can help us point our creative efforts in the right direction. How could/should/can we use data and analytics to improve the PR process? Here are some thoughts from me:

  • To pinpoint relevant and authoritative writers, bloggers and influencers most likely to be receptive to our message
  • To pinpoint and refine the best message and channel to reach a particular audience
  • To identify the best way to effect change in audience behaviours
  • To isolate the necessary elements of a story to make it resonate with a target audience
  • To A/B test different content to see what resonates best
  • To spot and track emerging trends and conversations before they explode
  • To identify (and disrupt) competitors’ tactics and strategies
Please add your own!

Will the Mail Online’s move from to .com signal the end of its reign?

By Amy Ronge

The Mail Online has splashed a whopping £1million on purchasing the domain name as it bids to increase its standing as the world’s most-read news website, and with recent news breaking of its merger with, Mail Online has moved to further increase the ever widening gap in reach between them and the rest of their media rivals.

But could its bold plan of switching to a .com backfire and allow rival news organisations the chance to steal a share of its audience?

The owners of the newspaper – the DM Group – say they’ve opted to switch from a domain to a .com one to accelerate the worldwide growth of the Mail Online site and cement its position in the US market.

They also claim a move to a .com home will help extend Mail Online’s reach further into Asia, and with over 70% of its traffic already coming from outside the UK, many would say this is a smart move. The site has seen record highs: in November 2013, it surpassed 168 million monthly unique global browsers.

However, while outwardly the shift to a .com domain signifies expansion and growth, the Mail Online may not see an immediate spike in traffic. Think back to when the Guardian switched from to .com – its traffic dropped. Econsultancy reported in October 2013 that the Guardian may have faced problems with its domain name migration, citing a drop in referral traffic from Google as a potential cause of the fall.

So, if the same happens to the Mail Online, then what might the consequences be?

Rivals overtake the Mail
There are already a few rivals snapping at the Mail’s heels that would jump at the chance to overtake.

Capital New York’s Joe Pompeo made a good case for Mail Online number one ‘archenemy’, the Daily News. He said:

“…lately, Mail Online has been feeling an unexpected thorn in its side. Over the past two months, five journalists from Mail Online’s Soho-based Manhattan operation have quit to go work at the Daily News, which is beginning to nip at Mail Online’s heels in the race for U.S. web traffic.”

The similarities between the two sites’ homepages are uncanny – is it testament to the Mail Online that the Daily News feels that it needs to up the ante? Roy Greenslade lent his thoughts to Pompeo’s article, and said:

“The need for an established U.S. title to poach staff from a British interloper shows Mail Online’s immense impact…It confirms the Mail’s success, but also shows the determination of the Daily News to fight back.”

Celebrity news sites regain crown

TMZ and Radar Online, although more focused on pure celebrity news, may swoop in and take a significant chunk of the Mail’s celebrity-focused following. A huge proportion of the Mail’s stories focus on celebs both Stateside and in the UK, and should it suffer a dip in traffic when the move happens, an opening could emerge for these smaller but immensely popular US-based sites to grab a slice of the pie.

However, the Mail Online has a growing army of writers at its disposal to feed the ‘beast’, so any dip in traffic is likely to be temporary as it pulls in its staff to write even more content. It does need to be careful of the not-so-quiet rumblings of the ‘churnalism v journalism’ storm though. As the Mail grows in size, words shared by Roy Greenslade in his Guardian column recently ring true louder than ever. He wrote:

“There cannot be any doubt that Mail Online is the most comprehensive redistributor of news and features content in the UK and, arguably, the world. It has devoted enormous resources to the task. Ranks of young journalists have been hired to rewrite copy gleaned from the websites of rival newspapers, often within minutes of them appearing on screen.”

So – it’s got its content ‘creation’ sorted. One thing that I don’t think the Mail has the upper hand on yet though is video. The adoring Mail fans flock to the site for up-to-the-minute breaking news and juicy gossip, but not necessarily to watch video, and whilst video makes an appearance, it’s not a prominent feature. Other sites have that far better pegged than the Mail, so this could be its one small ‘watch out’ and certainly something to keep an eye on.

For now though, the Mail Online has found a formula that works: churn out stories, worry about the edits later, and watch the numbers grow.

Generation Mashtags

By Rowan Usher

Mashtags, seen them? For those that haven’t, these are the latest (PR?) brainwave of Birds Eye – potato shapes in the form of hashtags, symbols and emoticons. Birds Eye says these new ‘delicacies’ will “get people talking around the table and help to make mealtimes more enjoyable”, but others have been less positive. The Independent questions if it is “social media gone too far?” and Buzzfeed says “Just. No”.

I can see why there is scepticism. No longer are children being taught their ABCs over dinner, they’re now being force fed digital jargon with their greens. If this isn’t a sign of a generational shift to a digital era I don’t know what is.

There is a serious message in here: like it or not, we can’t ignore social media; it is becoming so embedded in society it even makes an appearance on our dinner plates. Social media is changing the way business is carried out as proved literally by Birds Eye – but are all businesses onboard?

It doesn’t seem so. Before Christmas we conducted a piece of research with a leading provider of digital marketing solutions and websites, hibu, in which we discovered that small businesses across the UK are burying their social media heads in the sand. We asked SMEs in 10 UK cities about their take-up of social media: only 50% of small businesses had a business Facebook page, 28% used Twitter and only 18% used LinkedIn.

These numbers are surprisingly low, particularly considering that the IAB tells us that nearly 80% of consumers would be more inclined to buy more often because of a brand’s presence on social media.

Stepping into the world of social media can seem a daunting task, particularly for small businesses, which is why we’ve pulled together some questions that you should ask yourself when getting started:

1. What are the objectives of using social media? Is it sales, getting people in store or a pure branding exercise? Answers to these questions will give clues to which channel is most suitable
2. Who are you targeting? You know your customer better than anyone else, can you find out where they get their information from, share stories – this will also help define which channel is best
3. How can you interact with them? Become useful; think about how you can deliver relevant content at the right time. People are more likely to follow and engage with a brand if it doesn’t limit itself to company specific messages and product offers
4. Are you being smart? Make sure all of your communication is aligned by joining the dots between emails, advertising and events

Keep it simple and have a go. The move by Birdseye to bring social media to the dinner table shows that there are commercial benefits to having a bash at it, or mash at it.

The stats don’t lie: video content works

By Lauren Taylor

Some interesting stats about online video content for you:

• The chances of getting a page one listing on Google increase 53 times with video (Forrester Research)

• Branded video content reaches nearly half (46%) of all internet users in the UK. More than half of these people (54%) go on to click though to the brand’s website (Econsultancy)

• 80% of Internet users recall watching a video ad on a website they visited in the past 30 days; 46% took some action after viewing the ad (Online Publishers Association)

• Video promotion is over six times more effective than print and online (

• YouTube accounts for over 28% of all Google searches (ComScore)

• 65% of senior executives have visited a company’s website after watching a video (Forbes Insights)

It’s very clear to see from the above that online videos are being watched more and more and that they are a great way to generate awareness, drive traffic to websites and influence purchase decisions.

So, how can PR professionals use video content to tell their clients’ stories and help them achieve their business objectives?

Show the benefits
A press release can only go so far. They tell the audience the benefits of the product or service, but a video can show exactly what the benefit is and showcase the product or service in real-life situations.

Make it shareable
When was the last time you saw someone share a press release on Facebook or Twitter? I can’t remember ever seeing one, but I’ve seen 100s of videos shared in my newsfeeds in just the last couple of weeks. Think about what it is that people share and tailor your video content in a suitable way.

Keep it snappy
You only have to look at the popularity of Vine to see that videos don’t have to be long to have an impact. Anything too long and you’ll start to lose your audience. Most people only have a few spare minutes when they might be able to squeeze in a quick video. And if you have more content, you can always make another one.

Video is the future of content marketing. As more and more companies realise this and begin including online video as part of their marketing mix, it will be up to us PR people to devise ways our clients can be creating content that cuts through the noise, builds awareness and drives purchases.

Below I’ve included examples of videos we’ve worked on with clients. The first is from G-Technology about its Driven Creativity Competition. The second is a trailer from Alfresco introducing its video series on the Future of Work. Finally, Steve Wozniak, Chief Scientist at Fusion-io, walks us through the basics of virtualisation.

Facebook buys WhatsApp; my favourite Twitter reactions

By Sinead O’Connor

Last night, the world went a little bit crazy when Facebook announced the purchase of mobile messaging service WhatsApp in a $19 billion deal.

Within minutes of the news breaking, Twitter became a frenzy of outrage and intrigue.

Check out this Storify post for my favourite reactions.

Take care of your daemons in a digital world

By Judy Wilks

Whichever side of the data privacy fence you’re on, I urge you to read Colin Koopman’s piece ‘The Age of Infopolitics’ published in the New York Times last month.

An assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon, Koopman posits that each of us is now an ‘informational person.’

“Politically and culturally, we are increasingly defined through an array of information architectures: highly designed environments of data, like our social media profiles, into which we often have to squeeze ourselves.”

And it’s not just our social media profiles; data exists about us all over, from our passports and Oyster cards to our education records, credit scores and medical records.

[photo source]

With this in mind, Koopman raises an interesting philosophical question: is the data just about us, or is it us and we are it? Do we exist completely separately from our data?

“We like to think of ourselves as somehow apart from all this information. We are real — the information is merely about us. But what is it that is real? What would be left of you if someone took away all your numbers, cards, accounts, dossiers and other informational prostheses? Information is not just about you — it also constitutes who you are.”

This won’t come as a surprise to what we are now calling Generation i – the digital natives born after 2002. These under-12s don’t distinguish between the online and offline worlds and innately understand that they are their digital persona and vice versa. For them, their digital persona is just an extension of their true selves.

It struck me that our digital personae are a virtual version of the ‘daemons’ in Philip Pullman’s world. In the trilogy, His Dark Materials (the first of which was made into the film the Golden Compass), daemons are the external physical manifestation of a person’s ‘inner-self’ and take the form of an animal. According to Wikipedia, the daemon “is separate from, and outside its human, despite being an integral part of that person (i.e. they are one entity in two bodies).”

For those of us over the age of 12, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to think of ourselves as an ‘informational person’, a mass of data. But we must, says Koopman, because “unless we begin conceptualizing ourselves in this way, we leave it to others to do it for us.”

Those others may be governments or commercial organisations. Putting wiretapping aside, we’ve already seen how this can happen in small ways in the way Facebook uses, or has attempted to use, our data. [See here for a great round-up of Facebook’s data fails.]

The situation is too complex to adopt an ‘if you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to worry about’ approach. And anyway, that misses the point. It’s not necessarily about goodies and baddies. It’s about understanding that the world has changed and there should be rules governing our informational selves (‘infopolitics’ per Koopman), just as there are for our physical selves. And we should take care of our informational selves, just as we do our physical selves.

It can be hard to get worked up about a nebulous tangle of bits and bytes. So perhaps we should all take a moment to imagine our digital selves as an animal, a Philip Pullman ‘daemon.’ Would it be cute and furry? Or fierce and snarly? Either way, it immediately feels a lot more tangible and something that should be cherished rather than neglected, doesn’t it?

How quiet does a quiet period have to be? Running a PR programme pre, during and post IPO

By Helen Ellis

Before I start, let me quickly outline what this blog post isn’t going to cover. This isn’t a post about how to PR an IPO. I won’t be talking about developing messaging for your S-1 filing, working with a stock exchange to draft an IPO release or set up media briefings at IPO, or ringing the bell and associated photography that celebrates the IPO. This blog post is going to cover what a PR programme can look like for companies that are in the process of going through an IPO, particularly for those running PR programmes in territories outside the US (or the country in which the public offering will actually take place). It is based on our experiences working with 20-30 companies, including most recently Rocket Fuel and Fusion-io, that have gone through successful IPOs and the questions that we typically get asked.
What constitutes ‘Business as Usual’
Companies are allowed to conduct ‘business as usual’ in the run up to their IPO including during the quiet period. From a PR perspective, this means that if you have been running a PR programme in a particular country prior to the decision to list, then you can continue to run a PR programme in that territory (within reason). It also means that if you have been expanding internationally, then you can announce new offices and senior hires if you had previously done so. PR teams can continue to pitch spokespeople for comment on the types of industry topics they would ordinarily target, offer by-lined articles and blogs etc, support a company’s presence at an industry show or event. However, if you’ve never previously undertaken PR outside your domestic market, now is not the time to start targeting, for example, the Financial Times.

Essentially, companies are allowed to continue to engage in PR activities that they have previously undertaken, as long as those activities cannot be viewed as having the potential to inflate the potential share price (company valuation).

Exclusions - Which PR activities might impact a company’s valuation?
If you are in any doubt as to what types of PR activity might be viewed as potentially impacting share price, here’s a quick (but not exhaustive) run down of the main offenders.
• Launching new products and services
• Announcing new customers
• Disclosing financial information that is not included or does not match the information in your filing
• Speculating about the size of the business opportunity
• Company or personal profiles
• There may also be certain topics that may be off limits – for example if the resulting coverage could be viewed to be ‘hyping’ a particular technology or service that’s core to your business

How long do quiet periods last?
There are no set rules for how long quiet periods must last. Each company sets its own length of quiet period, usually on the advice of its legal team. We’ve worked with companies that have been extremely cautious and those that have been much less so. Often quiet periods start at least a month before the target IPO date and continue for two to three weeks post-IPO.

However, companies usually start to pull back on PR activities before they officially file. This is because they don’t want a rogue piece of coverage (that could have been secured weeks before they filed) to appear once they are in their quiet period.

Salesforce famously had to delay its IPO when CEO Mark Benioff was quoted in the New York Times during its quiet period.

Briefing spokespeople
Even if your spokespeople have been media trained, they may need additional training or at least some clear guidance about what they can and can’t say. Because the way they could talk about the company before will have changed. At a minimum, they should avoid talking about the impending IPO and if they need to talk about the company or company’s performance in a particular market they need to be absolutely clear what figures, data, customer names etc. have been disclosed in the filing and only use that information.

The role of legal
Ultimately, whether you like it or not, it is your firm’s legal team that will set the length of quiet period pre and post IPO and also determine how quiet a company needs to be during the quiet period. PR teams need to work with the legal team to understand what types of activities and opportunities they can continue to undertake.

An IPO doesn’t have to mean a hiatus for PR activity. It is possible to conduct meaningful programmes that continue to help build awareness, thought leadership and engagement for companies with their target audiences during this process. As long as everyone involved has a clear understanding of what can and can’t be communicated, it can be ‘business as usual’.

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