Multiple Guinness World Records. A number of world firsts. One of Time Magazine’s ‘25 Most Influential People on the Planet’ for two consecutive years. A record for the highest number of online views for a music video in 24 hours. The most Tweeted about celebrity in 2017. No, I’m not talking about Taylor Swift, Beyoncé or Kanye West. Those are the accomplishments of Korean pop (K-Pop) sensations BTS.
If you didn’t know about this band when they debuted five years ago, you will once you’ve read this blog. Just last week, BTS kicked off the European leg of its ‘Love Yourself’ tour in London, leaving an impressive trail of PR activity which included; interviews, media coverage, an exclusive UK performance on the Graham Norton Show, and two sold-out concerts at the o2 in its wake. And this is a band that sings mainly in Korean, with a sprinkling of English!
Despite the obvious language barriers, BTS is a textbook example of PR at its finest. Here we look at three reasons why BTS has become a phenomenon, rather than a band whose albums are confined to the bargain bins of record shops.
Like no other
In the communications industry, we’re always telling our clients that to stand out, they need to be different – have a unique message or offer an alternative solution than others in the market. Don’t be ‘me-too.’ BTS ticks all the boxes when it comes to marching to its own drumbeat.
The septet’s members – Jin, Suga, Jungkook, RM, Jimin, J-Hope, and V – all have unique personalities that play off against each other in interviews. RM is the designated leader of the group, given he’s the only one who can speak English relatively fluently. Jin introduces himself as ‘worldwide handsome’ in almost every single interview he gives, compared to the infectious positivity of the aptly named J-Hope. As evidenced with the likes of the Spice Girls or similar boybands from days gone by, fans like to pick their favourites (or ‘bias’ as it’s called in K-Pop) based on the relatability and likability of these different personalities. Add to this a back catalogue of catchy tunes, ridiculously creative, colourful and cinematic music videos and backbreaking, super-precise dance routines and you’ve got a recipe for success that no other band can replicate.
A band with heart
BTS, along with its record label Big Hit Entertainment, has given back to local and global communities since the band first appeared on the music scene in 2013. According to reports, in 2017 BTS donated 70 million won (approximately £47,000) to the Sewol Ferry Disaster 416 Family Council – a group comprising the families of the victims who died in the sinking of a ferry off the coast of South Korea in 2014. In September this year, BTS became the first K-Pop act to speak at the United Nations, as part of an anti-violence campaign with UNICEF. The ‘Love Myself’ campaign saw BTS donate a portion of the income from physical sales of its Love Yourself series of albums to the cause – which currently stands at $1.03 million. Band member RM eloquently gave a speech, in English, to a room full of diplomats and heads of states, to encourage awareness of and support for the cause worldwide.
While the band’s songs are written and performed largely in Korean, within the lyrics the members have been open and honest about the troubles their target demographics face in today’s modern age – privacy, mental health, love. Taking a cue from Suga, a member of the band who has struggled with mental health himself, many fans have since shared their own stories in a bid to open up the conversation on a topic tarnished by stigma.
An engaged audience
BTS’ use of social media to share insight into what’s going on behind the scenes has set it apart from any other celebrity on social media today. Members take it in turns to post pictures on a shared Twitter handle, with candid, post-concert live videos streamed on YouTube or via broadcasting app V-Live. So it’s no surprise the band snatched the ‘Favorite Social Media Artist’ award at this year’s American Music Awards.
It’s clear the record label has a tight handle on what can and can’t be posted; the members do have a certain reputation to uphold given the conservative nature of their home country. However, speaking directly to fans – collectively known as the ARMY – has helped BTS create and nurture an engaged audience in the Western world, as well as among Asian fan bases closer to their native South Korea.
The members of BTS undoubtedly work hard at their many crafts, with 12-hour-a-day practice schedules and strict daily routines. However, PR – and particularly social media – has been a crucial component in propelling the band into new markets, bridging a significant language gap with creativity, personality and a warmth that most celebrities these days just don’t possess. And if the BTS train keeps picking up pace, you’ll be singing along to their latest track in broken Korean in no time (just like I am!)
Find out how Babel develops unique PR campaigns to make businesses stand out.
In my opinion, social media can be just as harmful as alcohol, drugs or crossing the road without looking both ways. Don’t agree with me? Let’s look at the facts.
A 43-year-old father recently live streamed his own suicide on a chatroom called Paltalk after being “bullied mercilessly” by internet trolls.
Over the past couple of years, Instagram has been rated as the worst social media platform for mental health, as it perpetuates and aggravates anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying, body image and ‘fear of missing out’ amongst younger users.
Fake news continues to pervade Facebook, with the UK government calling for accountability from the tech giant after it has been shown that users’ data has been manipulated and voters targeted without their knowledge via disinformation and hate campaigns.
Last year a Swedish model received rape threats on Instagram after posing in an advert with unshaven legs.
Should I continue?
The dangers of social media know no boundaries – regardless of your age, gender, nationality and personal circumstances, you’re potentially at risk – from misinformation, harassment, bullying or unsolicited targeting. And right now, the social media platforms you’re using every day, ten times a day, are doing little to protect you.
For political means
It’s no surprise that Facebook has lost one million European users since the General Data Protection Act came into effect in May 2018. Fresh off the back of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media platform is coming under fire after being lax with users’ privacy and personal information. In a so-called ‘crisis against our democracy’, some British MPs are now calling for ‘Fakebook’ to take responsibility for the spread of fake news and misleading, harmful content on its site as interference from other nations has influenced our voting process. Bots and fake accounts are rampant, with users left wondering what the hell to believe (and most choosing to believe what they read on a credible and popular platform worth billions of dollars).
It’s not just Facebook in the firing line either – Twitter’s stock plunged 20% in July as the company is taking greater action to block fake and offensive accounts.
With Twitter and Facebook facing such backlash both reputationally and financially, you’d expect the social media giants to take more responsibility for the health of their respective platforms – and the consumers that use them. While admittedly their hands are being forced and the wheels of change have been set in motion, there are much more insidious and harmful incidents taking place on platforms such as Instagram.
When a stranger calls
When we were younger, our parents used to tell us never to talk to strangers. Unfortunately, the anonymity of social media means we don’t really know who we’re speaking to when chatting to fellow social media users online. And not everyone has the best intentions.
In 2015, a woman set up an Instagram account (@perv_magnet) to demonstrate the abuse, harassment and threats received by women on the platform. She reposted over 1,000 racist, sexist and sexually explicit comments that both she and other women have been unfortunate to receive.
It’s notoriously difficult to report abusive DMs on Instagram, and if you go on to any community site like Quora or Reddit, the general consensus is that you will never hear back. Meanwhile users harassing women and/or men online continue to use the platform without repercussion or consequence.
Duty of care
The minimum age for users on Facebook and Instagram is 13. This frankly boggles my mind. If these platforms use the argument that they are not creators of content, but just publishers of users’ content, then they surely need to take responsibility for the type of content being posted and the likelihood of a minor seeing or engaging with it. The age of consent in most countries is 16 or 18 (21 if you’re in the US) – if a youth can’t drink, drive, have sex or buy a knife until they reach one of these ages, then they shouldn’t be left exposed to misinformation or potential harassment online. And it definitely shouldn’t be so difficult to report issues and receive a response. Unfortunately, while most of our rules apply to the physical realm, the virtual is left unregulated, untamed and unknown.
While government definitely has a part to play in helping to regulate social media platforms, the platforms themselves need to be taking more responsibility and action rather than waiting for the proverbial s**t to hit the fan. They have a duty of care to their users in creating a safe and welcoming environment – something they all claim to do, but the evidence suggests otherwise. So here is my plea to the Zuckerbergs of the world – please exercise more caution and care for those people who made your platform what it is today. We’re people, with rights and feelings – not something to be exploited for your own gain. A moral compass might not make money but integrity is priceless. Clean up your platforms, regulate users, or risk endangering your users. And you don’t want to do that, right?
In this second and final part, we take a look at the ladies of Babel and how their tech PR skills translate into championship-winning tennis. Who in the team is serving the aces? And who is setting the PR industry on fire? Find out here…
Narelle Morrison, COO and Co-Founder– Steffi Graf (GER)
On court, Graf was interesting to watch; versatile, athletic and a record breaker. She’s often been credited for popularising tennis in her native Germany. Narelle is a true ambassador for PR and her enthusiasm, connections and knowledge of the industry are reasons as to why people flock to – and stay – at Babel. A glittering and accomplished career.
Sarah Alonze, Associate Director – Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP)
I’m biased and tooting my own horn a bit, but I think I’m most similar to Garbiñe Muguruza in both style and personality – a fiery, aggressive player with flat, powerful groundstrokes who takes calculated risks rather than going for the outright winner. Informed PR that packs a punch.
Sally Douglas, Associate Director – CoCo Vandeweghe (USA)
While Sally is a leader, she’s in her element as part of a team – similar to Vandeweghe, who is adept in singles, but excels in doubles. Consistency and strategy are the lynchpins for both of these ladies; try ruffling the feathers of either and you’ll be sorely disappointed. Sally delivers tech PR campaigns as efficiently and impactfully as one of Coco’s speedy serves.
Katie Finn, Senior Campaign Director – Sloane Stephens (USA)
Sloane Stephens has steadily made her way up the WTA rankings due to a number of impressive performances and trophy wins at majors. She’s an all-court player, competent with all shots. Katie is an all-rounder, able to turn her hand to any PR task with an ease and ability that other PR professionals envy.
Holly Ashford, Senior Content Writer – Camila Giorgi (ITA)
It’s hard not to be intimidated by Camila Giorgi. Feisty and outspoken, she’s one of the hardest hitters on the female tour. Holly’s knack for journalism means everything she delivers for clients is evocative and punchy; a pleasure to read. Holly crafts word combinations and turns of phrase with flair, much like the artistry of Giorgi’s aggressive serve-forehand combinations.
Jennifer Atkinson, Campaign Manager – Heather Watson (GBR)
Heather is yet to win a Grand Slam trophy but has the potential to go far in the game. Jen shares Watson’s amazing footwork and timing – which is not surprising given Jen’s prowess as a hockey player. Jen also possesses a good sense and feel for PR. Honing this skill and intuition will help her to generate results like never before. Variety is the spice of Jen’s PR life – and Watson’s shot making.
Sophie Payne, Campaign Manager – Naomi Osaka (JPN)
According to a recent GQ article, Naomi Osaka is the coolest thing in tennis today. On court, she’s confident and ruthless; an underdog on paper but able to fell the greatest of giants – Serena Williams included. Sophie has natural aptitude for PR; her commitment and ability to learn quickly achieves fantastic results. While she doesn’t have the experience of other players, Osaka – like Sophie – has the potential to become a champion.
Pippa Woodruff, Campaign Executive – Genie Bouchard (CAN)
Genie and Pippa have both the brains and the brawn. While Bouchard is known for her modelling outside of the court, her performance on court is encouraging, despite some recent issues with form. Pippa is the new kid on the block at Babel and is getting to grips with PR. But there’s no doubt Pippa will win ‘Newcomer of The Year’ as she serves up some great results for clients.
Grass season klaxon! Wimbledon, the oldest and perhaps most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, is upon us. As Babel’s official tennis fanatic (you probably won’t meet anyone more fanatical – and annoyingly so), I await the four Grand Slams with eager anticipation. Wimbledon, my favourite Slam, is actually the only major I’ve been to, and last year I came away from the event with a raging sunburn, a bag full of merch (yes, I’m one of those people) and terrible disappointment from Rafael Nadal’s loss to Gilles Muller in the fourth round.
Here’s part one of the blog, looking at the male qualifiers and hall of fame members…
Ian Hood, CEO and Co-Founder – John McEnroe (USA)
Even if you’re not a tennis fan, you’ve heard of John McEnroe. Like our very own CEO Ian, McEnroe’s reputation preceded him. Fiery and confrontational, McEnroe was a fighter and tough opponent; a skilful shot maker. Ian leads Babel with passion and vigour, and the results he’s delivered over the years speak for themselves. One of the greats.
Matt Humphries, Managing Director – Andre Agassi (USA)
While Steffi and Andre are married in real life, Narelle and Matt are not! Now retired, Agassi was blessed with natural talent and was known as a worldwide star both on and off court. Babel’s own Mr. Mobile exudes the same charisma, talent and presence of Agassi – his knowledge of telecoms PR is unparalleled and his affable nature makes him a winner with clients.
Simon Judges, Content Specialist – Carlos Moya (ESP)
Former world #1 Carlos retired from tennis in 2010, but he’s not out of the game. He now coaches current world #1 and ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal. Like Moya, whose best surface was arguably clay, Simon is a specialist at Babel, leading the charge with content writing and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the team so they too can become ‘PR Nadals.’
Paul Campbell, Campaign Director – Alexander Zverev (GER)
Alexander Zverev comes from a family of former tennis players, so it’s no surprise he’s currently ranked third in the world, after impressive wins against the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Consistency, style and good sportsmanship epitomise both Zverev’s and Paul’s approach to their respective crafts. Not to mention both men are extremely likeable and naturally athletic.
Suraj Mashru, Senior Campaign Manager – Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Italian-born Fognini is one of the most outspoken players on the men’s circuit and has been known to lose his temper. Suraj doesn’t usually lose his cool, but he has the gift of the gab in his role as media relations specialist at Babel. Just like Fognini, Suraj delivers with precision and thrives when under pressure. An exciting player to watch.
Ben Cole, Campaign Manager – Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG)
Del Potro is pretty tall. So is Ben. The ‘Tower of Tandil’ has been plagued with injuries over the years, which has seen him narrowly miss out on titles. But he’s a force to be reckoned with – he’s got one of the best forehands on the tour and can go toe to toe with the best in the game. When on form, Ben has the skill, strategy and knowledge to serve up something special.
Dan Parris, Senior Campaign Executive – Dominic Thiem (AUS)
Thiem is a delight to watch on court; hungry and aggressive, he constructs points intelligently to shift his opponents out of position. His mental game is envied and a weapon that allows him to play unfazed under pressure. Dan is a committed member of the Babel team who carefully constructs his PR outreach pitches to media in order to drive optimal results. Adept, careful and tenacious.
Ed Cooper, Campaign Executive – Karen Khachanov (RUS)
Word on the street is Karen Khachanov could become the next Marat Safin. Why? Consistent and steady success on the ATP tour, wins against higher ranked players and a fan favourite in his native Russia. Sizzle doesn’t always beat substance, and Ed has substance in spades. Thoughtful and informed hustle that, with a bit of fine tuning, could help both men shift gears.
Declan Bradshaw, Campaign Executive – Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Shapovalov is currently the youngest player in the top 100 of the ATP rankings. But don’t be deceived – he’s got wins against grand slam champions under his belt. The new kid on the block, Shapovalov has the potential to become a next-generation star. While Declan has only worked in PR for just shy of five months, his ability to pick up tasks is impressive. One to watch!
Stay tuned for part two of the blog, with our female qualifiers! In the meantime, meet the whole PR team or find out more about Babel and what (else) makes us one of the top tech PR agencies in London.
I’m putting pen to virtual paper this week, to again discuss a topic that is close to my heart: mental health.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with the focus this year being on stress. Stress. A word that we all use quite liberally; a feeling we’ve all undoubtedly felt in some shape or form, some more so than others. But what is it?
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” The interesting part of that sentence is the latter: “adverse or demanding circumstances.” What constitutes adverse or demanding? People feel things in different ways; what’s stressful to me might not be so stressful to you. This is where mental health and the treatment of it becomes wildly subjective, and where we may struggle to empathise or show tolerance for issues impacting our mental wellbeing.
Last February, I wrote a blog about a report published by PR Week into mental illness within the PR industry. The 2017 #FuturePRoof report interviewed 120 PR practitioners to get feedback on their experiences of mental health in an industry that is notorious for piling pressure on its professionals. Alarmingly, fifty-seven percent of those interviewed said they would feel uncomfortable discussing their mental health in the workplace. Some of the PR practitioners even went as far to say that mental health had been cited as grounds for dismissal.
The reality is, despite mental health gaining the awareness it deserves, there’s still quite a bit of work to be done to educate people and provide appropriate resources on how to handle mental health issues effectively, as well as better support those who are suffering.
Last year we worked on a project with student brand-engagement platform Dig-In, in collaboration with mental healthcare provider The Insight Network to promote the results of one of the largest-ever surveys into student mental health. The survey revealed that a third of students has suffered a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem for which they felt they needed professional help. We’re only really just beginning to understand the scale of the mental health crisis, and how it can impact people of all ages and walks of life.
Earlier on this week, The Guardian reported on a similar Mind study, which found that three in four Britons have felt overwhelmed by stress. This study is so significant because of the large number of participants, which is thought to be representative of the UK. The other key takeaway from the study is the impact that stress can have on our lives, whether clinically diagnosed or not. It’s something we can no longer ignore.
Looking at PR specifically, stress continues to pervade the industry. A month ago, the Evening Standard reported that a London PR worker had fallen to her death after being signed off work with stress. Sadly, at the end of last year I also said goodbye to a former colleague, who had taken his own life after years of struggling with depression in silence. The news came as a shock – he’d never openly spoken about dealing with such issues, and was outwardly a very sociable, fun and happy-go-lucky person.
We’re often told in PR that we have to mask our emotions. Don’t feel or act this way, always be positive, don’t talk about your problems, be a role model for the rest of the team. But wouldn’t we be better role models if we forged a new path – one where we’re able to show our vulnerabilities in a safe environment without judgment or prejudice? We take mental health very seriously at Babel – people are our assets, so why would we not protect or support them in the best way we can? I always encourage staff to open up about how they’re feeling about work, or about anything else that may be affecting their time in the office.
We simply need to do better – as an industry, as a nation, as a world. It’s time we stopped looking at mental health as a problem; as something that holds us back.
I’d like to say the future looks positive. As support groups and organisations continue to fight the fight on our behalf, pressuring ministers and government bodies to make necessary changes to the provision of mental healthcare, slowly more people are starting to become comfortable with sharing their own stories. Footballer-turned-boxer Leon McKenzie has shared his own stories of battling depression, and a number of Hollywood celebrities have recently tried to turn the tides by opening up and pressing the issue of mental health in a society that continues to judge. The latest movement, I Don’t Mind, aims to “defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness with a simple phrase: IDONTMIND.” Actively backed by celebrities such as Melissa Benoist and Christopher Wood, I Don’t Mind is using digital channels such as Instagram to help open younger generations up to starting a proactive conversation about mental health.
As someone who has dealt with stress previously, it’s not always easy to share what’s going on. But the first step is to try – say what you need to say, take as much time as you need, but rest assured that someone, somewhere is going through the same as you. And it’s ok. It will be ok.
Did you know that it’s possible to 3D print a tasty, hold-in-your-hand, fully edible raspberry? No? I didn’t either, until yesterday. Fellow Babelite Sophie managed to bag tickets to BBC Click Live, the BBC’s flagship technology programme. The difference with this particular show was that, for the very first time, it would be filmed in front of a live audience. And so yesterday evening, Sophie and I made our way to the historic Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House to enjoy a smorgasbord of exclusive mouth-watering, eye-popping and mindboggling technology.
Here’s a recap of the highlights from that two-hour show, hosted by Spencer Kelly and Kate Russell.
Droning on about drones
Before we got into the Radio Theatre, Sophie was ‘recruited’ by a BBC staff member to have a go at flying a Star Wars drone. Turns out her next career won’t be a Junior Lieutenant in the Rebel Alliance. Drones featured heavily in the Click Live show, and not just from a consumer entertainment perspective. Dr Mirko Kovac from the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London showcased a variety of new drones that aim to propel the UK to the forefront of a very lucrative aerial and robotics industry. This included the SpiderMAV drone, which can literally shoot wires from its underbelly to connect itself to structures and therefore stabilise itself in dangerous or unreachable environments for humans. The AquaMAV mimics the movement of flying fish or diving birds, and is used to monitor water quality in reservoirs. Look out for these technology superheroes as they transform the way we monitor resources and build critical infrastructure in the future.
Should robots feel pain?
This is where the show got a bit Descartes-level deep. We watched a video of various robots being pushed over and beaten up and were then asked this very question. If we’re building artificial intelligence capabilities within robots that emulate human knowledge and sentience, should robots feel pain? What do we feel when we see a robot being physically abused? Do we laugh it off because we think it’s just a machine? Or do we empathise? Would giving robots the ability to feel pain prevent it from doing its job? Perhaps more questions than answers there, but definitely an interesting debate, led by Dr Beth Singler from the University of Cambridge. The answers to those questions will either inhibit or open up the development of robots and their capabilities in the future.
Magic Tom and his AI assistant
This was perhaps one of the more impressive showcases of the night. Tom London, tech magician, hacker and programmer performed a special magic trick with the help of his Alexa-enabled artificial intelligence machine, programmed to ‘read minds.’ A willing participant was brought up on stage, given a pack of cards, and asked to select one at random. The first trick involved getting Tom’s AI assistant to guess what colour card the audience member was holding, all by looking into the camera it had and thinking about the colour picked. The second trick then involved, after a bit of calibration, picking the actual number of card held by the participant. The trick worked pretty darn well, which is no mean feat in the realms of AI and magic.
There was much more technology than I can possibly fit into one blog – cultured and 3D-printed food, an unofficial Guinness World Record attempt using the whole audience’s participation and a bunch of BBC micro:bits, and even a bit of Augmented Reality! But don’t despair – you can catch all of this and more when the show airs in the New Year. You might even catch us in the audience!
I feel conflicted. I’m a huge sports fan, but recent experiences of watching sporting events both on TV and in the flesh have left me a bit cold. When did sporting events become such spectacles that, on the surface, appear to be more about the advertising opportunity for brands rather than the sport itself?
My distaste for advertising in sports piqued when I watched the US Open on TV in September. A huge tennis fan, I’ve been to both Wimbledon and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (now sponsored by Japanese company Nitto) on numerous occasions. So you can imagine my horror when I turned on the TV to watch the US Open, tennis’ fourth and final Grand Slam, and was met with about 45 minutes of celebrity watching, singing, flag waving and an assortment of other activities that didn’t involve two racquets popping a ball back and forth over the net.
I’ve just returned to work from a week-long break to New York. During my time in the Big Apple, I was keen to experience something truly American, so I decided to go to an ice hockey match. The match was taking place at Madison Square Garden and was the season opener – and I was surprised that, for a sport comprised of three 20 minute periods, the actual ‘game’ lasted just over three hours. How? Before the game there was what I can only describe as a 30 minute ‘hype’ session – sound and visual effects, branding as far as the eye could see, blaring music and screaming fans. I felt like I was at a One Direction concert. The intervals between periods of play were filled with celebrity spots, the horror-inducing Jumbotron (I don’t want millions of people to see my face in ultra HD, thank you very much), t-shirts and branded merchandise being thrown into the stands, advertising and much more. I really enjoyed the ice hockey, but I couldn’t help thinking that taking three hours for a one hour sports match was overindulgent.
Perhaps it’s a cultural thing. If you look at advertising in British sports, it’s a lot more subtle. There are TVs replaying Hawkeye calls at Wimbledon, but there certainly isn’t any dance music. Yes, there’s advertising around the tennis court for the tournament’s long-standing sponsors, but it’s a very different feeling.
Sports advertising has been around for years, and there’s a reason for that. You only have to look at the NFL to understand why. According to a recent article by Sports Illustrated, the commercials televised during the Super Bowl have become almost as important as the football game itself. Fox, one of the American broadcasters with rights to air the Super Bowl, has been charging around $5 million for a 30-second ad this year. It’s perhaps no surprise that the price tag is so hefty, given the Super Bowl is watched by a hundred million Americans. If you’re a brand looking for reach and visibility on a huge scale, perhaps sports advertising is the way to go. But I can’t help feeling that this is to the detriment of the sport itself – it dilutes the value of what the athletes have been paid to do, although it no doubt helps teams and individuals gain fans and bag endorsements.
Perhaps I’m a traditionalist; there’s no denying that sports matches provide a lucrative opportunity for brands, but sometimes it would be nice to watch someone play basketball, rugby or baseball without feeling like I’m being bombarded and blinded by commercials. Have sporting events become more about the brands rather than the athletes and the game at hand? After my experiences last week, I’m inclined to say yes, but with attention spans diminishing and consumers becoming as fickle as ever, who can blame them?
This time last year, I wrote a wonderfully cheesy blog, chock-a-block with suitably cringe worthy tennis puns. The blog looked at how the Wimbledon 2016 Championships were turning to technology to innovate and bring tennis to the masses.
Within that blog, I surmised that Wimbledon was employing the use of social media, apps, data analytics and brand partnerships to promote one of the world’s most longstanding sporting events. However this year, I have a bit of a different perspective on how the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) is (or isn’t) using tech to its advantage (here come the puns! Mind your heads as I smash them your way).
I wrote last year’s blog from an outsider’s perspective. While I am admittedly the world’s biggest tennis enthusiast, to the annoyance of my friends, family and colleagues, I had never actually been to Wimbledon. That changed this year, when I had the opportunity to queue for six hours before excitedly running around the grounds trying to find the biggest name players. It’s worth noting here that I was promptly scolded by the grounds’ stewards because apparently (and so they exclaimed, shaking their fists in disgust) ‘There is no running at Wimbledon!’
I digress slightly, but I have a point to make. Last year, I wrote what I knew. Anyone can download the Wimbledon tournament app and browse scores, player bios, photos and much more. If you’re a tennis fan, of course you’re going to follow Wimbledon on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and anywhere else you can find them. Interestingly this year, the content shared on Facebook has been translated into Spanish when talking about Spanish-speaking players. Good job I speak Spanish.
IBM has also had a longstanding relationship with Wimbledon, providing real-time analytics on match statistics, service speeds and the like. Any of these things I mentioned you can find easily in the public domain, if you know where to look. It all helps to build brand visibility for one of the most beloved sporting events in the calendar year. From a communications perspective, the more content you can provide to fans and prospective fans, the more viewers you’ll attract and the more visitors you’ll get to the ground. More footfall equals more money spend on ludicrously priced strawberries, Championship Towels (I did buy one of these, I must admit) and other mementos to immortalise your experience. All sounds good so far, right?
After my experience this year, I’m starting to think a bit differently. As a PR professional, I can appreciate the efforts that the AELTC has put into promoting Wimbledon and even pushing the boundaries of tennis as a sport with innovations such as Hawkeye and data analytics. If anything, tennis has always been at the forefront of tech innovation, as a tool to improve how the sport is played and enjoyed. But from a fan perspective, once you get into the infamous ‘Queue’ and even into the grounds, the tech is lost. Even the order of play boards just to the right of Centre Court are analogue.
It struck me how little technology there was for fans to interact with during the actual experience of the Championships. If you’re going to be queuing for six hours, why not have some interactive screens showing people’s comments or queuing experiences? Why not have some interactive tennis games? Use a bit of AR to propel people virtually onto Centre Court? Walking around the grounds, everything was very prim and proper; quintessentially English.
Away from the huge screens showing pictures of the players and the latest scores (and obviously the giant TV screen on Murray Mound), there was no real interaction with technology for the fans. Maybe it’s not needed – I know in previous interviews the organisers of Wimbledon have been keen to preserve its prestige, heritage and British style. But I can’t help thinking it might be a missed opportunity to build loyalty and love for the game. Each year, ahead of the tournament kick-off, the AELTC has always announced some new tech innovation to help bring tennis to a wider audience. It will be interesting to see how, once it has reached these new audiences, it intends to keep them, with or without technology as a tool for engagement and brand loyalty.
On Tuesday morning, I had the pleasure of attending Westminster eForum’s ‘Women in the tech sector’ keynote seminar. Hosted at Glaziers Hall in London Bridge, a very packed room listened to a number of high-profile speakers discuss the lack of women in the technology sector.
The first thing that struck me about the event was that every single speaker that took to the stage bombarded the audience with statistics. And rightly so; just 17% of Tech/ICT workers in the UK are female and only 4% of the world’s software engineers are female. These are just two of many facts highlighting a stark misrepresentation of women working in technology today. While it appears we have made some slow and steady progress towards promoting the importance of gender balance, the percentages are not moving in the right direction quickly enough. This sentiment was the platform upon which the rest of the speakers of the event built their case for why and how we need to get more women into the technology industry.
There were two speakers in particular who, in my opinion, packed a punch with their talks. The first was Hema Marshall, Head of Country Digitisation and Skills from Cisco. Hema made a strong case for the importance of role models in helping young girls to enter the tech industry because ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. She posited that hope is not a strategy for encouraging young girls to work within the tech industry – we can’t just cross our fingers and wait to see what happens. Instead, we need to bring the role models and the initiatives straight into schools to change the culture of the industry and underline the business imperatives for women working in tech roles.
The second speaker who made an impression on me was Susan Bowen, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Cogeco Peer 1 and Chair of the Women in Tech Council, techUK. As a woman who started her career through coding, Susan clearly had a head for numbers. As her role model and former colleague Meg Whitman once told her, ‘facts and data set you free’. This is exactly what Susan tried to do, using numbers and hard evidence to help raise the commercial case for gender equality.
The event was certainly interesting and provided me with some food for thought, but I would have liked to have seen more men speaking and even in attendance. There was one male speaker throughout the whole session – Steve Brown, Director of Empiric and Programme Manager of Next Tech Girls – who did a great job talking about how his firm recruits young women into tech roles. However I feel that, if we are going to change the culture and mindset towards women in tech, and women in senior roles more generally, men need to be more involved and engaged in the discussion.
Some of the language used to describe women in relation to technology also put me at unease. On a few occasions, some of the speakers described themselves as ‘sassy’ or ‘not wanting to be emotional among male colleagues.’ While much of the day’s discussion focused on recruiting young women into technology and the importance of role models in doing so, there won’t be any role models for women to follow if we can’t retain the talent currently in the industry. This means providing a nurturing and accepting environment based on equality. Using adjectives such as ‘sassy’ to qualify the roles women are doing dilutes the values, skills and characteristics women are bringing to the table. It also gives permission to male colleagues to use similar words, which can come across as offensive in some cases. I’d like to see a move away from this type of language. Then we might see more equality and stronger acceptance in sectors where women are severely lacking.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 11 years, you might be aware of this social media platform called Twitter. It’s only got about 319 million active users (as of 2016) and is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Of course you’ve heard of it, who hasn’t? And if, like me, you’re glued to your smartphone screen day and night, constantly refreshing social media pages and frantically searching for the latest news, you’ll know that as of last night, Twitter’s making a few more changes to its platform.
Its latest move seems to be a serious foray into live streaming. As part of its push into the sector, the social media giant has teamed up with Bloomberg to offer round-the-clock reportage. That’s right; 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the global financial outlet will create a news service solely for Twitter that live streams “important news for an intelligence audience,” according to Bloomberg Media’s chief executive officer, Justin Smith. The channel is expected to kick off later in the year and will be dedicated to providing breaking stories from the news outlet’s many bureaus globally.
Twitter’s been undergoing a period of change recently. Last week, it reported a decline in revenue; the first time it has done so since its IPO. However, video has comprised a significant portion of its growing ad revenue in Q1 2017, so it makes sense that Twitter’s charismatic leader Jack Dorsey wants to pursue a bigger portion of the video streaming pie. In fact, it hasn’t stopped at Bloomberg. Twitter has signed on an additional 16 live streaming partners to offer a mix of sporting, news and entertainment-related content to users. This includes, but is not limited to content from the NFL, WNBA, the PGA Tour, BuzzFeed, Cheddar and IMG.
Going after such a lucrative sector, however, is no mean feat. Twitter will need to outmanoeuvre the likes of Facebook, YouTube and even Snapchat if it wants to stake a real claim in the video advertising world. It’s no secret that fewer individuals these days are watching TV, moving instead to online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Now TV to get their fix of movies and shows. Perhaps social media plus online video could spell great success; the next stage of content consumption. However, I for one don’t care about the NFL, the PGA, or the WNBA and although these sports do attract a global following, I’m not sure how many people outside of the US will either. While Twitter is a US company, it has a global reach. While it’s fine for Twitter to experiment with partners closer to home, if it truly wants to elbow out the market leaders in the video advertising sector, it needs expand its remit to ensure relevancy for a local and global audience. This means bringing local content to users, wherever they may be in the world. While it aims to do this with its dedicated Bloomberg channel, it would be nice to see some local market considerations for its sporting, entertainment and news feeds.
To that end, if Twitter wants to take the lead in curated content, it also needs to take responsibility for the information it is sharing. For a social platform that has received a lot of criticism for allowing extremist content and opinions to be shared on its platform, it will need to apply stringent guidelines to the content being broadcast via its partners. While 24/7, on the go reportage is a great concept, sometimes people do need to just switch off. When the 21st century has already borne witness to some pretty atrocious acts, we need to think about how we’re reporting these stories, bearing in mind the age and sensibility of the average Twitter user and the way different countries report events. It will be interesting to see how Twitter’s video ad strategy plays out, but it will need to seriously think about how this will impact the end user, rather than just its already-lined pockets.