Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A few days in the Algarve leads to award-winning article

At a dinner held at the Portuguese Embassy in London last night, the Association of Travel Organisers to Portugal hosted its fourth media awards. The awards, nominated by ATOP and representatives from the Portuguese National Tourist Office, recognised the work of the media in the promotion of Portugal throughout 2008.

I was nominated in the category Best Travel Trade Article along with TTG magazine and ABTA magazine. Other categories included Best Newspaper Article, Best Consumer Article and Travel Writer of the Year.

I’m delighted to announce that I won my first journalism accolade since turning freelance. The article entitled, ‘Coastal Splendour’ appeared in Luxury Travel magazine last April after I’d spent a few days touring the Algarve’s five-star properties and luxury spas.

The result was completely unexpected and a real surprise. The awards organisers did a really good job in hiding all indication that my nomination had been successful whilst hosting an enjoyable dinner in sumptuous surroundings. I’d therefore like to use my blog to thank everyone involved in the nomination and judging process and to show my appreciation for the trophy and prize hamper full of Portuguese food and alcohol. Result!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

What's the point of Twitter? Building our brand online

As individuals, many of us embody a brand that we develop online. Maybe yours is an extension of the firm you represent or you have a professional reputation you’re keen to enhance. You may simply strive to be popular within a social group or you'd like to be talked about in positive terms.

What was referred to in the days before social networking sites as status, credibility, reputation or popularity, has now evolved into something millions of us nurture online every day.

This evolutionary development began in August 2003 with the launch of MySpace. In the UK however, the importance of a site where friends could share, message and stay connected took longer to filter into our conscious day-to-day lives.

It wasn’t until September 2006 and the availability of Facebook to anyone with an email address, did we really begin to evolve our online brand image.

Facebook is now the world’s default social network with 17 million unique users in the UK and 250 million unique visitors worldwide.

The speed at which it has developed is best seen when comparing page views with MySpace. In May 2008, the sites were about the same size. Facebook has since more than doubled and currently attracts 84 billion worldwide monthly page views, compared with 57 billion for MySpace.

In the UK, one million of us connect and nurture our professional brand personas via Linkedin, whilst 3.5 million of us share our brand visuals by posting photos on Flickr.

The majority of 18-24 year olds still use MySpace, whilst Facebook is more popular with 25-35 year olds. Unsurprisingly, it’s the 25-54 age bracket that connect via Linkedin.

But now, there’s one more ‘not so new’ social networking tool that has infiltrated our evolved and conscious need to connect online and develop our brand identities.

Twitter, the micro-blogging service has been around since March 2006 but was used predominantly by tech developers to share ideas. It allows users to post up to 140 character updates via text, email, Twitter’s website and a host of third party applications.

As a journalist, I first discovered it as an extra online feed to track breaking news and eye witness accounts of major events. The often mundane chit-chat that occurs between followers and recipients was of little interest and I didn’t feel the need to take part.

That changed when a digital PR challenged my perception of Twitter and asked if she could prove to me its power and effectiveness as an online communication tool. She persuaded me to set up my own Twitter page and then she posted a tweet to alert both her followers and the open ‘Twitterverse’ that I was someone worth following.

The initial result was instant, and overnight I gained a small audience of followers. I was intrigued that if a crowd of strangers were following my brand communication (Tweets) based on a referral, what could Twitter do to build online communities?

After all, Jonathan Ross was using it to keep his fan-base, plus the Daily Mail interested whilst he served his suspension from the BBC. And other celebrities soon saw the power of being able to communicate their brand on a more social level and have been signing up in their droves ever since.

One of my first tweets was a request for events people to reveal themselves and Kate O Neil from Cocktail Stars answered my call.

Since then, we’ve built a network that includes, among others Conference and Incentive Travel magazine, Visit London and Simon Burton, the founder of industry social network Event Crowd. Others have joined following a blog post by head of marketing for events at Merlin Entertainments, Peter Kerwood on Event magazine’s website. And by twittering key words, agencies such as Jack Morton and George P Johnson in the US have found me and opened a global channel of live marketing conversation.

I’ve proved to myself that Twitter also works as a crowd sourced Q&A tool. I did this by posing research questions to the Twitterverse instead of turning to Google. The Tweets have resulted in worthwhile help and advice from complete strangers every time.

The fact is that people who Twitter are more likely to engage with one another both online and in person. This can lead to business conversations, referrals or opportunities we would otherwise have missed.

In fact as I write this, more than 175 cities around the world are hosting Twestivals, bringing together local Twitter communities in face-to-face environments for one global evening of fun and to raise money and awareness for Charity: Water.

We are still the early adopters of Twitter but its growth is predicted to be faster than Facebook. As a powerful new way to communicate, track conversation and converse with others, what benefits could it deliver for your brand?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Agencies invited to help shape Excite

The last time eight experiential agencies all sat together around the same table, it was probably something to do with the ill-fated Live Brand Experience Association, set up in December 2004 to try and maximize the impact of live activity as part of the overall marketing mix.

The association limped on for two years, before folding due to insufficient interest in a membership fee structure and to this day, experiential marketing is still a discipline with no dedicated collective voice.

It was heartening therefore when the leading agencies each accepted my invitation to come together at the offices of BEcause to discuss content and an involvement in an experiential conference I’m putting together for June.

Last year, as part of the Exhibiting Show held at Earls Court exhibition centre, I chaired the debut Excite conference. This year, due in part to the overwhelming success and interest in the conference element, Exhibiting Show organiser Simon Burton has rebranded the exhibition as Excite and repositioned it to be more focused on live brand experiences.

My role is to now produce a day and a half worth of educational content that will assist brand managers to develop live event strategies and help agencies to share best practice and achieve growth in this economic recession.

The 2009 Excite will take place at Earls Court’s Brompton Hall from 24-25 June. Last week’s initial meeting was a great success and I’m confident that the conference will be a true reflection of a collective input from the live marketing sector. I am keen to continue receiving content suggestions and expressions of speaker interest from brands or event agencies specialising in brand experience. If you would like to get in touch, please email me at the address listed on my blog page.