Between a Pox and a Hard Place

Big pharma companies are the industry everyone loves to hate, or at least in the case of the media. It’s not hard to see why. The industry is repeatedly rocked by scandals of companies bribing doctors and allegations of malpractice, making it an easy target for shock headlines. The industry’s latest woes come in the form of the governments’ £500million bill for allegedly ineffective flu drugs.

Back in 2005, when the swine-flu epidemic hysteria reached its peak, the UK Government started stockpiling Tamiflu, a drug created by Roche and touted as the best hope in avoiding a major flu outbreak.  Come 2014 a Cochrane review reveals that Roche did not release all of their trial research, which is in fact entirely legal, and its drug is perhaps not as effective as first suggested.

Cue media outrage, finger pointing and headlines demanding to know why tax payers’ money is being squandered on useless drugs.  Seeing these headlines you’d be forgiven for thinking that the media had argued all along that the drugs were a waste of money. However, looking back it appears that many headlines carry the tell-tale symptoms of hypocrisy. As Oliver Wright at the Independent points out, during the swine flu panic headlines were screaming for the Government to purchase Tamiflu to defend against an outbreak.

What are we to make of this? We know shocking headlines catch eyes and sell papers and some are indeed guilty of over-dramatising the story… but in the case of scandalous healthcare stories where is a journalist to look for the real answers? The jury is still out on whether Tamiflu is effective in treating flu symptoms. Various regulatory bodies and doctors say it is useless, whilst others claim it’s a perfectly good treatment. Let’s not forget this drug has the necessary regulatory approval. It’s only due to the passing comments of a doctor and the belligerence of the BMJ that the research was even questioned. So if all the regulatory bodies and research, at the time, backed the use of Tamiflu it seems only right that journalists would jump on the bandwagon, only to be swept up in later controversies.

The healthcare industry by nature is about the long-play. Research evolves and unforeseen issues in treatments can take years, even decades to arise. So perhaps this should serve as a cautionary tale of over-dramatising healthcare stories in favour of a little discretion and foresight into how the story could play out later down the line.


Rumours, headlines and the x-surface-factor

Last week some exciting rumours hit the web, starting on Pocket-lint. It seems an anonymous tipster had got in touch to reveal top secret details of new Xbox products coming up to launch. Amongst other exciting details was the promise of a brand new Xbox console, not to be labelled ‘720’, and a 7-inch gaming table dubbed the X-Surface.

Related and less detailed rumours had appeared before, but this latest gaming-insider-info was quickly picked up on numerous other sites. Then it was revealed to be a hoax.

It turned out the ‘news’ came from a prankster who had clearly reached frustration breaking point with tech and gaming websites reporting unconfirmed rumours. On a dedicated Tumblr blog the wily tipster explains these actions, wanting to highlight the lack of fact-checking some sites do on rumours and leaked stories.

That’s all good and noble and all, although it does somewhat ignore Pocket-Lint’s disclaimer:

“Naturally, when a tipster is anonymous, there is some degree of trepidation attached to believing what they say verbatim. However, considering the facts Pocket-lint has been given, and the lack of outlandish claims, everything our source says is plausible”.

It’s also sad that it’ll discourage future rumour stories that may be correct, as Pocket-Lint suggested in an update to the original article.

As a PR, it also highlighted something else to me – the desire for news sites and blogs to post a story, any story, with a headline including a well know brand or product, sometimes to their detriment.

Don’t get me wrong, this makes a lot of sense. Having New iPhone Launched smack in the middle of your homepage will grab more than your average traffic. And since the majority of sites rely on traffic to support their business model, I can see why even the vaguest of rumours is worth considering.

However, this focus on big brands, products and rumours shouldn’t come at the expense of stories from smaller brands that have something darn interesting to say or show. In my time as a PR I’ve been told by journalists several times news, a new product, or briefing sounds interesting, but the lack of brand awareness of the client company means they can’t dedicate the time to covering it. They sometimes play it off to the high level nature of their publication (I’m looking at you nationals).

This may sound idealistic and a little romantic, that the little guy should get an equal look-in as the goliath brands of the world. And since it does, here’s a real example (with details lacking to protect my cowardly self).

Earlier this year, a client launched a new product that attracted a lot of media attention. The client was very tight lipped in the run up to the launch and was reluctant to do any pre-briefs ahead of a launch event. Event invites started and we had a few yes/no/maybe responses, when the client gave us permission to do a select few pre-briefs with trusted contacts. However, we couldn’t provide details in advance beyond ‘a new product from X company’. So we approached a few nationals who had covered the company’s products at launch before. The response from one was words to the effect ‘Unless you’re Apple or Google, we can’t dedicate the time to come to an event or an interview on something without knowing exactly what it is’.

Happily another contact, who was also open to coming to the event, took a briefing on merit and past experience, assuming it would be a good story from a known company. And it was. On the day, the article was one of the most read and shared the outlet’s website. Then the first contact got back in touch, requesting any future announcements be given as a pre-brief in future.

So in some cases, a good story from a reputable client is out-weighed by an unconfirmed rumour from a well known name. Desire for high search traffic aside, this doesn’t seem right.

Pun-tastic headlines are back – thanks to Google

The web has changed many things in life. When I was but a small child, and nets were for fishing, I didn’t know all cats are hilarious. I had no way of seeing what my friends were having for dinner every day. I was unable to claim knowledge of an obscure acronym cos I couldn’t Wikipedia it.

Now I am a small adult that’s all changed. I can do all these things, and more. The one thing I can’t do is enjoy a good online pun-headline.  As much joy as the web has brought us, SEO and Google News has all but killed the pun-tastic world of tabloid headlines, leaving them the reserve of good old print media only.

pun headlines

This has also lead to some media outlets putting up fairly uninteresting or sensationalised news pieces, with headlines likely to grab SEO traffic. For example, stick ‘Kate Middleton’ in a headline last week and you’ll probably see a spike in traffic. But perhaps this is all about to change. Some bright spark at Google must be missing the puns as much as I am. Whoever it is must have been a fan of The Big Breakfast’s Pun Down too.

Google is launching ‘news_keywords’ metatag to solve the headline issue. Rudy Galfi, Google News product manager, says the new tool “lets publishers specify a collection of terms that apply to a news article. These words don’t need to appear anywhere within the headline or body text…Because the metatag appears only as part of the HTML code of a page, visitors to a site won’t ever see the magic under the hood.”

In other words, you can now tag a headline with keywords in the same way you can tag a post or article. These tags won’t appear in the headline, but Google’s clever spiders will see them when crawling and indexing the page, the process Google follows to make sites show up in search results. Tags help Google understand the context of a webpage, and identify which words it should index against. This ultimately makes it easier for Google users to find the relevant page or pages they want.

The key benefit here is removing the need to have what users are searching for in the headline, freeing up writers to be all creative with puns. For example, the classic headline ‘Wham bam! Sam Cam to be mam’ (wherein PM David Cameron’s wife Samantha is reportedly pregnant) is not well optimised for SEO. No one is looking for this news is likely to search for anything other than perhaps the media nickname ‘Sam Cam’.

But if you can tag it with say ‘David Cameron’, ‘Samantha Cameron’, ‘pregnant’, ‘prime minister’, ‘baby’, and so on, then you get the comedy pun and the traffic.

Bravo Google, a most worthwhile improvement. And hopefully one that will discourage media outlets from shoving up rush stories with SEO grabbing headlines.

HT to @vickywoollaston


The Telegraph vs The Guardian: Who has more readers?

Last week the latest National Readership Survey (NRS) figures were released, detailing how many of us Joe publics pick up and read a newspaper or news online every day. Despite being one set of figures, different media outlets managed to report the news with different angles. And quite self-serving angles at that.

telegraph vs guardian

Take for example The Telegraph’s opening line“More people read The Telegraph online and in print every day than any other quality daily, new independent figures reveal”.

Seems quite straightforward, survey shows more people read The Telegraph than any other paper – if you discount non-quality types like The Sun. The paper backs this up by stating “The first study to combine print and web readership has found that 1,946,000 people read The Telegraph every day, compared to 1,346,000 for The Times”.

All sounds good, until you read The Guardian’s piece on the same survey results. “The Guardian had the biggest combined print and online monthly readership of British national quality titles in the year to the end of March, according to the latest National Readership Survey (NRS) figures.”

But that sounds like The Guardian is saying it is the most read quality paper. It’s report has figures too, “The Guardian and’s readerships combined gave an average monthly readership of 8.95 million in the 12-month period, ahead of the Daily Telegraph/ audience of 8.82 million”.

Ah, there is it you see. The Telegraph is measuring on the largest number of daily readers, whereas The Guardian has gone for average monthly readers over a year. So it’s sort of comparing one day to one year…very sort of. I’m more inclined towards The Guardian’s stats, as measuring over the last year seems like a better indication of readership levels. In reality there’s no way to be certain which of these papers’ is the more widely read. The only thing we’re sure of it The Indy is well and truly in fourth place, lagging behind even The Times despite its full fat paywall.


Telegraph vs Guardian on Yahoo!’s Mayer

So Yahoo! has a new chief executive. Or another new chief executive if you prefer. The fifth inside a year is Marissa Mayer who, you may have heard, an ex-Google employee – as of Monday.

Can Mayer breathe new life into Yahoo!’s increasingly bleak future? To be blunt with you, I have no idea. I guess if there is a person in the world who could do it, it would be one of the three people who invented Google AdWords (yeah, she’s one of those). On the other hand, you can’t polish a…failing darling.

Forget the arguments on Yahoo!’s future for a second, because there’s an interesting point on media coverage of this appointment to end all appointments. After an initial storm of news stories late Monday / early Tuesday, a few ‘think pieces’ have been appeared with the more considered viewpoints of tech writers.

Specifically, The Guardian and The Telegraph took opposing views on the appointment and Mayer’s future.

The Guardian was full of chipper enthusiasm, calling Mayer “a Savvy boss” who is “one of the few executives able to turn Yahoo around”. Much of the write up focus on her past, with quotes from former colleagues and details of her working practises. At Google she went to 70 meetings a week, don’t you know. Even Schmidty waxed lyrical about her – to Glamour magazine of all things.

Comparatively, The Telegraph took a more forward looking view – and quite a dim one at that. Digital Media Editor Emma Barnett reports Mayer has “has taken on mission impossible” and deduces her “relatively easy” choice to depart Google was due to being pushed out of the power circle that, The Guardian would have you believe, loved her to pieces. The article also chronicles Yahoo!’s poor record on pretty much every business decision since 1999, concluding “Mayer, despite her huge following in Silicon Valley and brilliant reputation in consumer technology, has just gleefully accepted one of the Internet’s most high profile poisoned chalices.”

The poisoned chalice lined is also replicated in a second Telegraph article by media, telecoms and tech editor by Katherine Rushton. A strange term to use, given that even a poisoned chalice is meant to at least appear to be good at first – not something many would call Yahoo! right now.

So the media is uncertain of her future, and Yahoo!’s for that matter. If nothing else, in a few months we can all discuss [the brilliant job she has done turning the company around / who on earth is brave enough to be chief exec number 6] – delete as appropriate.