Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Liquidation Blues News

Photo by Valery Levchenko

Monday morning in the office was proceeding as usual. Until I noticed a tweet from a local media outlet mentioning my employer RIA Novosti, state-owned multimedia news publishing house, in a critical context. The tweet's link pointed to the Kremlin's official website where a presidential decree called  On Measures to Raise Efficiency in the Work of State Mass Media Outlets (annotation in English) had been published at 10:50 a.m. Moscow time.

From the decree – which I had to read through several times to fully grasp the scope of the imminent changes - I learned my employer was to be “liquidated” while a successor, an international propaganda house called Rossiya Segodnya (literally, Russia Today) was to be created under a new CEO. With additional expertise and assets coming from Voice of Russia, also to be liquidated.

It seems, the management and employees all learned the dramatic news from external media sources. Our first take on the story came out on the newswire some 40 minutes after the decree's publication. Without any comment from Svetlana Mironyuk, the CEO/Editor in Chief. The competition was ahead by 20 minutes or so. Both figures are quite big judging by news agency standards. English language story was published at 1:25 p.m., again with no comments from RIA's management.

A town hall meeting for some 300 managers was held at 4:15 p.m in the largest room of our press center. I have never seen a staff meeting so intense and yet with so much sense of solidarity. We listened, held our breath, applauded and asked questions. Thanks to a video posted online, some of Svetlana's quotes went public in the following couple of days.

RIA Novosti (since 1991) and its predecessors, publishing house APN (1961-1990) and Soviet Information Bureau (1941-1960), shared a rich history spanning over 70 years of multilingual information distribution in times of war, cold war and peace. Previous reorganizations involved complex schemes and frequent change of top managers. Svetlana has been the longest standing CEO (since 2003). It took her ten years to turn RIA Novosti into Russia's leading multimedia news publishing organization.

I am positive that in few years or even months the new organization would be considered a de facto successor of the Novosti family. The coming three months will no doubt be the most difficult because the transition phase overlaps with coverage of the Olympic games in Sochi and start of a new budget year. But I will surely miss the hard-earned news agency status (and nucleus) of the original company.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Environment "Dark & Cold" No Obstacle for Communicators

This week started off on Monday with a video-link roundtable between Moscow and Tokyo. As Iwao Ohashi said, in Japan a stereotype description of Russia is "cold, frightful, dark". Compare this to a more optimistic Western stereotype of "bears, vodka, balalaika". At the same time, Japanese brands, namely high-tech, TV and audio, cars, have been successful in Russia for decades. Recently there has been addition of cuisine and even fashion to the list. It was pointed out that passion and ambition of communicators and businesses help to break the ice and any stereotypes in relations between the two cultures.

On Wednesday I moderated the first ever PhysTech alumni conference. Plenary session was held in the concert hall of the university. It was rather cold in the room because of some apparent problem with central heating. Fancy LED spotlights at the stage were of little use. Alexander Abramov, president of recently established alumni organization called Phystech-Union, was commenting from the stage on a colleague's presentation. Then suddenly all went dark because of what occurred to be a power outage in the whole building. To my surprise, the discussion, went on, unplugged yet unabated, with gadgets and flashlights serving as spotlights. No sarcasm was spotted in the social media.

So, truth or fiction, it doesn't matter if an environment is dark or cold. What counts is the passion and ambition of business communicators working there with their audiences.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Data Journalism in Russia: Visually Sound, Lagging on Tools

Discussion on the state of data journalism in Russia took place yesterday at RIA Novosti's press center. Some 200 journalists, analysts and students watched the 'Journalism in the Age of Data' documentary first and then participated in the discussion (see image) that lasted longer than the movie.

Media analyst Andrey Miroshnichenko noted that the 2010 U.S. documentary is somewhat outdated, relating to its visual side, but at the same time “many newsrooms in Russia haven't yet mastered the tools featured in the movie”.

A common understanding that Russian media designers have been receiving lot more awards for infographics than for data visualizations proves this opinion well enough.

Marketing analyst Andrey Milekhin shared his concern by asking, “Why go visual? To [make readers] better see and understand? Or to better manipulate [them]?” He recalled that only four students had attended a lecture on data he gave some 15 years ago at the main journalism school in Russia. The lack of interest didn't surprise him much back then.

“Data journalism is [now] a global topic, not simply a media or marketing one,” said Milekhin, warning that media would put their reputation at risk if professionals are not engaged at data processing and analysis stages.

Online media editor Andrey Goryanov gave a good reason why a journalist should consider going visual. He thinks the readers turn to visualizations because of abundance of ordinary, boring, texts.

“Journalists must become masters of language or learn new skills,” Goryanov said.

Some of those who have learned this lesson are now part of infographics design teams as data story producers or editors.

“Back in 2007 we did pure infographics, not data visualizations. [Data] editors have now become respected team players,” infographics designer Pavel Shorokh said.

There is apparently another reason why visualizations are becoming more popular. Because of our genes.

“It's back to the caves for us since we started speaking visually. But we do better comprehend information in this manner,” media teacher Anna Kachkaeva said.

As for the visual skills, Kachkaeva noted it is not only journalists but also readers who learn them, thanks to data journalism.

One participant rightly said that while visualizations are easy to understand and sometimes simply beautiful, it's hard to describe or share them in verbal conversations. Now, this should keep the social media busy with user traffic in the near future.

The discussion was organized to help promote the first ever media hackathon in Moscow. The hackathon will be a part of Editors Lab hackdays, an international competition organized by the Global Editors Network.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Communicators, Manage Projects & Lead People for better Trust

Over the years I have adopted a job responsibilities mix that I seem to be sharing with many colleagues in communications.Here it is, ranked by effort:

  1. Project management.
  2. Corporate adviser function.
  3. External adviser function.
  4. Managing people.
What I like about this mix is that the top three functions are about leadership. I oversee the external communications center at RIA Novosti which has two full time employees, an adviser and a project manager. You can see the structure is fractal. Having less people to manage and focusing on projects allows for more leadership practice.

I am sure that the more people you manage, the less you can be a leader for them. And that the the more you manage people, the less you are a leader for them.

Being an external adviser is a very important element in corporate advocacy and building trust, both inside and outside the company. This involves collaborating in industrial associations and work groups, sitting on jury panels of awards and contests, blogging, tweeting, speaking at conferences.

Implications for business are evident. So, the bottom line is that such leadership is a proper way for a communicator to contribute to the company's bottom line.

These are the highlights of my coming presentation at the WCF Davos | Prague conference.

UPD: Hat tip to Archana Verma for her RT of a very inspiring quote by Grace Hopper: "You manage thngs, you lead people." Pretty much sums up the above.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Mechanics of a Hobby - is PR Profession to Blame?

On this rainy and cold morning at the dacha it has suddenly become clear to me. My recent obsession with all handy things mechanical has a logical explanation.

A year ago I brought back from a trip to London a vintage folding Kodak camera, made in the 50s. It took some fiddling to make the back cover work. Otherwise the camera was in good condition.

Since then my collection has grown to over a dozen of cameras, mostly Soviet-made replicas and originals - brands like Zenit, Zorky, Smena and FED. My son and co-workers contributed by buying and consigning more vintage stuff, respectively.

I display the collection in my office. Not only it facilitates some good conversations and helps to break the occasional ice, it also tends to reduce stress from work.

A mechanical device such as a working vintage photo camera has a number of levers, buttons, switches and optical elements that immediately respond to your command. It is this predictable and immediate action, all man-made, that fascinates me.

The logic behind the fascination is fairly easy. In PR, results come in complex spring-like chain of actions, agreements and attitudes, stretched over time and space. Sometimes this may be testing for your confidence.

Mechanical cameras seem to restore your confidence by providing instantaneous and intelligent tactile feedback. And mind you, you don't even have to use them for real.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Journalism Makes PR Exciting and Competitive - Poll

Russian PR practitioners were recently polled by, a local executive search portal and Buman Media, a PR consultancy. I would like to draw your attention to some findings that refer to journalism’s role in PR and vice versa.

Over a third (38 percent) of the 144 respondents expect the PR profession to include blogging and brand journalism in the future. Almost a fourth (24 percent) think journalists will migrate to the PR side, while just 6 percent think of the reverse trend.

Online media got the highest communication channel mark followed by print, social media, TV/Radio, blogs. However, advertisers’ money still votes differently (link, in Russian), putting TV ahead of all the other media in the first half of 2013.

Social media advertising and handling were mentioned as top newly acquired skills by nearly half of the respondents (47 and 45 percent, respectively).

Just 3 percent of the respondents think PR as a profession will cease to exist. No wonder, 72 percent say they will remain in the industry that has become more exciting (56 percent of the responders) and competitive (35 percent). Thanks to journalism, I would say.

The full report in Russian is available here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Is Your Gadget a Product? No, It's Three Fourths a Service

Marketers tend to simplify things down to black or white when they put a division line between their companies' b2c products and services.

One, in the gadget-obsessed world of today, any high-tech product would be used to providing or facilitating a service to or by the user. Two, there's support service associated with the product. Finally, three, a repair or maintenance service.

Your product is therefore at least three fourths a service. It should be marketed predominantly as such, too.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Russia's National Rating of Communications Companies

There are five Russian PR agencies in the Global Rankings of the Holmes Report, 17 more that have disclosed their revenues in the RIA Rating Ranking and yet five more in the below ranking of Russia's 27 most transparent PR agencies:

Russia's National Rating of Communications Companies
(link to the original story in Russian)

Composite rating (maximum, 1.00))
* SPN Ogilvy

The National Rating of Communications Companies (NRCC) aggregates four ratings prepared by three operators:
Expert poll conducted among directors of member companies of AKOS, IABC, RASO, AKMR associations, members of Russia's Academy of Public Relations and the NRCC Supervisory Board has helped to define the following weights for the composite rating:
Media Rating — 10%
Other ratings — 30% each.

Composite rating for an agency is derived as a weighted average of the respective normalized values in individual ratings. The highest value in an individual rating is always 1.00.

Agencies marked by * had their revenues calculated on the basis of market averages derived from actual revenue figures from other agencies.

NRCC aggretation was performed by Vizantia CG.

(c) NRCC Supervisory Board

Mikhailov & Partners
* FleishmanHillard Vanguard 
Social Networks 
Market Group 
Eventum Premo
* Ketchum Maslov
Newton PR & Communications 
* Polylog
* R.I.M. Porter Novelli
PR Inc. 
PR Partner
* International Press Club
BC Communications
Artisan Group Public Relations
Region PR
PROSTOR: PR & Consulting

Sunday, July 28, 2013

International and Domestic PR Awards Graded in Russia

Russian experts graded international and domestic (national, regional) PR awards, as part of preparing the first-ever integral rating of Russian communications agencies,

Participants of a poll conducted by Vizantia CG (Bycon Group), one of the three operators of the integral rating,  gave grades A, B, C to different awards, 49 in all. Surveys were distributed among members of the four main PR associations in Russia, RASO, AKOS, AKMR, IABC/Russia.

In the A list there are ten awards, including five international (one localized), two national, two international-domestic awards partnerships and one regional.

The B list consists of four international awards (including localization in the US of a national award), three national, two regional and one international-domestic partnership.

The C list contains 22 international awards (including four from Ukraine and two from Belarus), five national (including one partnership) and two regional.

The complete table of grades is located below. Links are provided to awards from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

The integral rating of Russian PR agencies will be presented on Tuesday, July 30. The four component ratings by fees, professional experience, staff qualification and media coverage were published earlier in July.

А Grade:
B Grade:
Cannes Lions
Silver Archer Regional Awards (Regional)
Silver Archer (National)
Red Apple
IPRA Golden World Awards
Crystal Orange (National)
Russia’s Media Manager (National)
Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards
PROBA-IPRA Golden World Awards (Partnership) Press Service of the Year (National)
Global SABRE Awards
Silver Archer - USA
White Wing (Regional)
Silver Mercury (Partnership, National)
Gold Quill Awards (Partnesrhip, International, Localized)
PR News Digital PR Awards
RuPoR (Regional) AKMR-Certified Event Agency  (National)
С Grade:
PR News CSR PR Awards
PR News Platinum PR Awards
PRAVDA Awards (Ukraine)
PR Coverage in the Media (National)
Kyiv International Advertising Festival (Ukraine)
European Excellence Awards
PolitPRpro (National)
PR News PR People, People to Watch & Top Places to Work
Global Effie Competition
AMEC Awards
PR News Nonprofit PR Awards
Event Technology Awards / Golden Puzzle (Partnership, National)
Gold Standard Awards
Event Breakthrough  (Regional)
Gold Sable (Regional) White Square (Belarus)
Best Corporate Video (National)
Clio Awards
Gold PROpeller (Ukraine)
Epica Awards
Energy of Success (Belarus)
Golden Drum
X-Ray Marketing Awards (Ukraine)
Russian Event Awards (National)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ethical Dead End of Print First Strategy

PR manager of a popular daily newspaper in Russia has been recently complaining to me. She thinks we should be crediting the newspaper's work more often in our newswire and on our news website. Well, we do credit local media if we use part of a third-party story that:

a) we think is exclusive and important to our readers;

b1) we can't confirm independently in reasonable time;
b2) the newsmaker is referring us back to because of exclusivity.

The newspaper in question has apparently got a print first strategy, which is still not uncommon in Russia. Scoops appear on the newspaper's website late into the night Moscow time when the print issue is in the works.

Come morning, we would sometimes mention the newspaper's stories in our daily press review (The Russian version is more detailed than, say, in English, where the sources are grouped). During daytime we work with our sources and provide original reporting. Sometimes the stories would coincide with the newspaper's late-night scoops. However, as I already mentioned, there are only exceptional cases when we would mention local media as a source.

So in theory, the newspaper may enjoy a beat of up to 12 hours (sometimes even more) over other media, including us. In practice it doesn't, according to the PR manager. The main reason, as it occurred, is because the credits are part of the KPI used there. I see a clear ethical issue here. Publishing houses should certainly care less about credits in other local media and focus more on engaging their readership.

Looking from a newsmaker's perspective, a print-first strategy is also an ethical issue. Such strategy introduces unnecessary delays of several hours before any story goes public. On the positive side, however, a second publicity cycle may follow if the news agencies decide that the story is important.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Expect Many More Russian PR Agencies in the Global Rankings

In the latest Global Rankings there are five Russian PR agencies, up one from the previous year. Three agencies are in the top 100. However, 10 more agencies could have been on the list. 

RIA Rating recently ranked Russian PR agencies by net fees collected in 2012. Methodology used was similar to the Global Rankings' one. In both cases PR fees were reported net and exclusive of VAT. The Russian project was actually inspired by good performance of the country's PR agencies in the Global Rankings 2012. Three of the four listed agencies appeared in the top 100 of the list that year.

Using the 2012 year-end exchange rate (1 USD = 30.3727 RUB), it's easy to conclude that up to ten more PR agencies from Russia could have made it to the Global Rankings 2013. If they had only wished to apply with all the extra hassle involved (language issues, methodology, etc.). On this infographic look for the first 15 companies, including the five agencies in the Global Rankings.

At a roundtable discussion devoted to the Russian rankings it was noted that the resulting 22 agency list lacked 'body' more on the torso side, not the long tail. The questionnaires had been originally sent to some 130 publicly active companies. One can, therefore, expect dozens of Russian agencies appearing in both rankings in the coming years.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Taking Readers to Your Company's Opinion Leaders

Today there were at least two posts – hat tip to Twitter - on benefits of joint SEO and PR operation in PR agencies, in form of marriage or merger.

These trends just have to bear fruit on the clients' websites soon. Because there is a strong need of optimizing corporate websites for the sake of journalists and bloggers.

Corporate website shouldn't mask a company's opinion leaders. However complex consumer-customer-shareholder-stakeholder content layers do exactly that. Especially when such layers are further divided by territories and/or languages.

Here are five ways to optimize your website and increase copywriters' engagement with it:
  • Include a curated media coverage section with links to stories and posts featuring the company.
  • Maintain a public calendar of the company's events and memorable dates with share and export functions.
  • Do a corporate blog.
  • Link to relevant corporate downloads (photos, videos, infographics, etc.). Mention respective opinion leaders in all of the above.
  • Let bloggers freely use the corporate downloads previously available only to journalists.
Optimized websites produce good search results even with a fictional cliche. Search phrase 'Take Me to Your Leader' yields surprisingly good results on Coca-Cola's corporate website, while suggests the Consultants Network.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Enhancing Public Relations with Data

The Internet is bristling with stories, event announcements and discussions on two topics involving data analysis: Big Data and Data Journalism. Both topics were covered in detail at a recent media conference in Moscow.

The former topic is generally attributed to marketing activities and features mostly non-public analysis of huge chunks of data generated by people and machines. The latter is positioned as a public service and sometimes even as savior of journalism.

It is widely accepted that today's PR practitioners need to possess marketing and journalistic skills. Therefore, data should already be used to enhance public relations activities in organizations and companies.

My advice is to go all the way with data. If you plan to disclose a list of people, products or facilities with contact information and other useful bits, why not do it in an application-friendly format? There are journalistic tools for extracting data from PDF files or websites, so don't even try to protect them from third-party analysis by presenting information as in print. In-house abbreviations for countries, as in the winners list of a prominent PR award won't be much of a problem either.

No wonder that organizers of major media conferences have been disclosing participant lists for years. A good example is the World Newspaper Congress.

I hope PR events' counterparts will follow media's lead soon, helping us, practitioners, in making public relations a more productive activity.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Personal Retrospective: Five Leadership and Career Move Cases

June, 2013 marked 25 years since my university graduation day. Over the years I have encountered many cases of both exemplary and unacceptable leadership and management practices in Russia by both expat and native bosses. Here's a sampler of five memorable cases with what I hope could be useful takeaways for my colleagues in communications.

Listen to the Music and... Work
In the Gorbachev-era USSR it was a common practice for employees at government-funded research organizations to earn official salary during daytime and get some extra revenues in the after-hours by doing analytical work. The work was carried out, according to commercial contracts between the employer and other organizations, by those employees who wished to participate and could contribute to the result, . In such after-hours my boss's boss would turn on some music like soft jazz, etc. This music created a positive ambience and made it clear we were working for our own enjoyment. I still enjoy listening to good music whenever I can, at work and play.

So You Want to Become a Manager? Act Like One
That was the reply of my expat boss when I told him I was ready and willing to become a manager of a team in the marketing department. The point was clear. Leaders do make better managers. Managers don't necessarily become leaders.

Self Irony as Leadership Tool
My other expat boss used to tell me and other middle managers personal stories that were reminiscent of comedy sketches in the likes of Mr. Bean, Benny Hill, and movies with Louis de Funès. We really enjoyed those stories while our respect for the boss kept on growing. I now have my own set of self-ironic stories to share with my associates.

Terminology of Rigid Management
A major private Russian bank I worked at practiced a cynical form of Rotation (dispatch of a Moscow based manager to a lower grade position in a Russian region) and Negative Motivation (cuts of monthly or quarterly bonuses). I was not surprised to learn that my former boss was asked to leave the bank soon after my voluntary exit.

Getting Analytical With Your Boss
At another major Russian bank I would often give my late boss a lift in my car when we were going back home from work. He was a great analyst and I enjoyed engaging in all kinds of “what if” discussions with him. He was definitely more of a leader than just a boss. Eventually we came to a logical conclusion I would be better off working in a more public environment. Very soon I left for a higher grade and more visible position in another Russian company.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How to Resolve the Global versus Local PR Riddle

There are a lot of discussions of whether the PR process should be local or global. Many modern businesses and the media are in fact global. Sometimes, without deep knowledge or understanding. Distances or languages are not effective barriers anymore. On the other hand, communication strategies are mostly local. How can this riddle be solved without ruining the whole system of practices and beliefs?

I suggest a 2 x 2 (two by two) approach. You have context and you have content. By context I mean an essence of all strategic issues a company may encounter on its way. By content I mean an essence of all strategic actions the company will take to address the issues. Consider a table or matrix where context and content are put into combinations of their global and local scale.

Joining global context with global content yields something like a global footprint a company will be leaving as it advances in its strategic development. Global context and local content define a company's local communications strategy.

Joining global content with local context yields a company's response to local market's challenges – the more the response, the higher the local market's priority. This sets the balance for the whole company between thinking globally and acting locally in each market. Last but not least, the combination of local content and local context define local communications tactics.

The resulting table (Global-Local PR Matrix) looks like this:

Global Context

Local Context

Global Content

Company Mission

Local Market's Priority

Local Content

Local Communications Strategy

Local Communications Tactics

The suggested approach applies even to strictly local businesses. It means they had better justify their choice of geographical scale of operation not just to their stakeholders but also global audiences if they want mutual understanding.

UPD: See me talking on the subject after a panel discussion in Moscow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mario Garcia: Newspapers Will Innovate but the Telephone Is the BigThing

Dr. Mario R. Garcia of Garcia Media is a man of many qualities. He is a world famous pioneer of multimedia news publishing design who worked with publishing giants like The Wall Street Journal, Die Zeit, Das Bild as well as many medium size and small companies in many countries. He is a philosopher of the news of the future, a teacher of journalism and publishing design.

In Russia, he has been working with the Moskovskie Novosti, a historical brand and newly  relaunched multimedia newspaper, and designed a new logo for the RIA Novosti news agency, the parent company and publisher.

On January 31, 2013 Mario delivered a public lecture on Storytelling in a Multi Platform Media World for about 100 Russian media experts and students at RIA Novosti's Multimedia Press Center. Russian speakers may watch the official video recording of the lecture.

  • The one “big thing”, or the publishing platform of the near future, is mobile, however print newspapers will survive and will find a new role for themselves.

  • Designers have begun to play a role almost as important as editors in multimedia news production.

  • Russian papers are designed well but not in an innovative manner. News agencies such as RIA Novosti are at the cutting edge of the media evolution.

These ideas and more he shared in an interview with Alexei Pankin, RIA Novosti correspondent and editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP Magazine, a Russian version of WAN-IFRA Magazine for the international publishing professionals. The interview was originally published in Russian here; it has gathered over 1,000 views.

On the next big thing in news publishing

Q: Do you believe that the mobile, tablets are really the big thing of tomorrow, correct?

Mario: I think that the telephone will be the tool of tomorrow for reading everything – for kids, like my grandchildren, they will read more than we do on a telephone. You and I don't enjoy reading on a telephone too much, maybe we check an email or whatever. But the next generations, the two generations behind us, they are going to do everything on this telephone. So to me, the tablet and the phone are the two digital platforms to develop.

Q: Of course the old question that everybody's asking you – what happens to the paper versions? Will they disappear, will they survive, and in what form?

Mario: I think the daily newspapers may not print daily editions during the week, but they will still print during the weekend. I think that people during the weekend will want to disconnect, and they will want to sit somewhere where there is no beep, no computer, no sound, and just basically enjoy a good read like you do a book or a magazine. So print will always be alive because of that. But daily, these newspapers in America that are three or four sections every day – people don't have time for this. I think that daily, it will probably be digital, and on the weekend you will have more of a very big weekend package to enjoy, by the fireplace, or sitting under a tree, or whatever. But there will always be print.

Q: And the business models for mobile will turn up eventually…

Mario: I think that the paywalls are going to start coming in. They have been very successful for The New York Times, where you bundle all of your platforms – phone, online, print and tablet – and then people pay for this, and whether they consume one or the other, that's their problem. But you will be paying. Forty four percent of all American publishers of newspapers say that this year they will build a paywall, so that's very big progress – I think that's the model.

Others are going to do what The Economist does – unbundle and separate. So you can buy the tablet but not the print edition. But I think the model that you will see more and more is the whole package – you buy everything.

On the art and science of publishing design

Q: Traditionally, designers have been more or less a service to editors, and now it looks like they are the drivers, that editors more or less follow the designers...

Mario: It is not a service department anymore. I think the designers are totally integrated, because visual journalism is extremely important. People live in a visual world, so they want to have more graphics, they want to have more impact of color, and the designers are the ones who know about this. I don't know how it is in Russia, but I'm seeing it here already. I just visited the infographics department of Moskovskie Novosti and there were big graphics being done, and all of that. So I think that it's everywhere. You feel that way?

Q: Yes, I feel this way too. Doesn't this make the news more shallow? It might be a good service in terms of selling  the news, but does it really contribute to people understanding what's really going on?

Mario: The graphics do. I think that a good design is there to make the content come out and make it easier to follow and easier to understand. A graphic can sometimes define what happened, better. I saw a graphic this morning, I don't know what newspaper it was, about a fire in a discotheque in Brazil, and that graphic is what showed you how people could not escape, all of that. So I don't think it cheapens the quality of everything – it really makes the understanding of the story more clear. But of course, if you abuse it, if you over-design, then like the abuse of anything, it's not good.

On training of journalists

Q: Here in Russia, there is a big debate – people are looking for new skills and new ways to prepare journalists. What do you think are the qualifications for young journalists or trainees in journalism or editing, what skills should they be acquiring?

Mario: think that right now there is much time spent trying to teach the technical side of things, of how a tablet works, or how to use a phone. I think in any case, the idea is to create journalists who know about the story, storytelling is the protagonist, and after that comes the platforms. And I think that hasn't changed. When I went to journalism school, the best classes were teaching you how to write stories. That is still the same today. Except that today, once you write the story, you might have to do a special version for online, and you might be asked to do a video while you are doing your interview. And those are storytelling skills that journalists need to know that were not part of the training we had when we went to journalism school. But the primary thing is storytelling. Then second, to be digitally minded, so they really think of audio. I had my first digital book published, and to me, the real lesson is that, because I am 65 years old, I tried to tell every story with words, and the editor will tell me, No, here you could put audio, here you could do a video to tell this story much better. And then I would react and say okay, and then I would do it. But the original thinking was always writing. And it's not that way. If you are digitally-minded, you are going to think in terms of many senses – hearing, seeing, touching. And that is what the new journalist needs to learn – that there are many ways to tell a story, but that the story is the most important part of the training. In all of my workshops, I always begin – and that's the title of my book, Storytelling in the Age of the Tablet, because I think that storytelling is the key, we cannot forget that part.

On mission in Russia

Q: What brings you to Russia this time?

Mario: I am here to conduct workshops for the team of RIA Novosti, primarily the newspaper Moskovskie Novosti, [the sister publication] The Moscow News, and then to give a public lecture here, about storytelling in the age of the tablet. And so, it's a short visit for training, and it's a short visit of updating, because I've worked with the Novosti before, now it's changed quite dramatically to a different format. So we're checking to see how it is, how it could be better, and all of that. So that's my visit this time.

Q: Are you satisfied with your previous experience? I think that your earlier design was quite interesting, it was a good paper to hold in your hands. But apparently they felt they had to change it...

Mario: They told me that they changed it because they wanted to appeal to 18-35-year-olds, and the old model was appealing to 55 and older. The older readers of the MN were common, but the young ones were not common. So they decided to be an entirely different newspaper – a tabloid, photographic, the opposite of what we did. And I think they're doing a good job now of this.

Q: So do you think all is fine?

Mario: I like it, I think that they are not doing enough with the digital formats. They concentrated too much on the print. So I've told them to move more into phone, digital, tablet, with more enthusiasm.

Q: I remember attending your public lecture in Moscow back in 2004. At least since then you've been coming here from time to time. Do you observe any developments in the Russian publishing industry as you meet people or talk to them, or see some  of our new publishing products?

Mario: I was talking to Tim Wall, who was the editor of the Moscow News, and he was telling me about his new project, which is Russia Beyond the Headlines. And I think that they are onto some interesting things, but it's basically how Russia is shown outside of Russia. So that to me was an interesting project. They had a great deal of apps and so on about Russian literature, Russian sports, and so on, but for exporting to the other side. I think that right now here, in RIA Novosti, you will probably see that the most exciting things are probably going to be happening within the news service itself. They are redesigning their website, which I think is going in the right direction, and they are telling me they will do more with the tablet. But in terms of the published newspapers, I don't see anything in the daily newspapers, either in terms of design, or journalism, that you would say they are setting a trend – not really. Maybe you disagree, I don't know. What do you think? Are some of them setting a trend – in print?

Alexei: I don't think so. I think that Izvestia [local daily newspaper] is trying to experiment. But not really trend-setting, no, I don't think so.

Mario: I didn't see, when I looked at the papers in the morning, I didn't see one and say, I would like to grab this one, what are they doing?, this is different. Probably MN the most different one, with their treatment of... like you see the photos going all the way across – the large photo concept.

Q: So you have a chance just to look at our newsstands, see a lot of papers, and say that you didn't see anything that would really grab your.attention...

Mario: No. But they are good-looking newspapers. I think that Russian newspapers now are, in terms of design, in a good way. There are no ugly newspapers that you need to take to the hospital by ambulance, or anything like that. I think that they're all finding their space, and doing it well. I don't think that there are innovations as such, whether online or in tablets, where you would say, This is one that the world should see. But they are all nice-looking.

On trends in newspaper design

Q: What are the trends, what would you like to see more of in these papers versions?

Mario: I think that the trends will be that beginning on page one, you get a sense that there are surprises in this newspaper, that it's not the same photo of the fire in Brazil that everybody has, that you do this online but that your printed product offers more surprises, which I think in a sense this one does. Maybe they should have more stuff on page one. But they do make you stop and look, because it's a photo that you haven't seen. They see they will never go with a newsy photo of a plane crash that everybody knows – that they will always use. So that's number one.

Number two – easier navigation. You show me what's inside the newspaper immediately, in an easy way. And then, interesting uses of color and typography. That's what I would say are innovations to look at, and say, Wow, this paper is doing something different.

There are three things that design is good for. The first one is to make the material easy to find. If the design is too complicated,  that's not good. Number two, is making it easy to read – the type should be big, easy on the eyes. And the third is, it should make you understand the story better.

On different cultures of publishing

Q: How do you find it working with Russian editors? Is there any difference between when you work here, and when you work, let's say, somewhere in the United States, or in Latin America?

Mario: Big differences. The Latin Americans really wait until the last minute to do things. They like to work under pressure, you see. So you have to keep pushing them, because they're bored easily. If you start talking for 45 minutes, you've lost them. In ten minutes, they want to have action. The American editors are very open to change and very direct.

The Russian editors I think are somewhat more insulated. I don't think that many of them – maybe because of language reasons or whatever – expose themselves too much to what others are doing. So I always see it as my job here to show them what is being done in the rest of Europe, or in Africa, or in Latin America, because they are not looking at this directly. But in a sense, they are closer to the European editors, many of whom... If you are in Central Europe, it's more difficult to be insulated, because you are one country next to the other. Here, you can get lost in the vastness that is Russia, and not look outside. So I find that you have... like in today's workshops, there are two groups – there are the ones who are totally involved in everything, they read everything, they know everything; and then you have the other half, who are happy doing what they do every day, and they are not looking to see what else is happening. So I think that that would be my take on the Russians. What is your take? I'd like to ask you the same question.

Alexei: I think that often it takes a good designer to explain to the editor what he wants, basically. Because after we work with a really good designer, by just telling you what plays better, he will remodel your paper or magazine, or whatever.

Mario: They influence the editor, in a good way.

Alexei: In a sense, I've noticed that a good designer is basically a co-author, or a real co-editor.

Mario: And I think that right now, going back to your first question, many designers are gaining managing editor status, they are managing or creative director, managing editor for graphics and design. So they are no longer at the bottom. I think that this is a point that they have worked very hard to get to. But the good editors know that design is what gets a story out to the people, so that people try it, they seduce you with a story.

Q: Another thing that I noticed is that in the Russian tradition for newspapers, magazines, publishing design is more like an art, a means of self-expression. While for Western designers, it's more like a trade. The Russian designers are thinking about their own self-expression, the Western ones are thinking about convenience for the reader, for the audience. Have you been noticing this?

Mario: Yeah, that is true. The Western editors, the Americans, the Europeans, they want to make sure the story gets to the eyes of the reader quickly and effectively, and they think about what is the best way to sell the story. I think that here, sometimes, I have had this experience at the beginning. They want to say everything in a long story, the words are what carries, and if you tell them to cut 20 lines they are very upset by this. At the beginning of this project, three or four years ago, they would say, Make the photo smaller, smaller and with more text. And I think that this is already, in most Western European countries and in the US, this is already beginning to pass. People know that if you look at a text and it's too long without nice breaks or something, people are not going to read it.

On conservatism of publishing industry

Q: WAN-IFRA always complains that the publishing industry is still very conservative – that there are new opportunities opening, but they still more or less stick to old habits...

Mario: They are conservative. I always say that this is an industry that likes to be the first to report change, and the last to effect change. This industry was one of the last to take computers into the newsroom. There were computers in hospitals, in the city, everywhere, airplanes, before they made it into the newsroom. They are very conservative people, they are traditional. I deal with them every day, and sometimes, you now have editors who are 41 years old, but they were taught by the old editors, so they think like the 75-year-old editor, at 41. I see them everywhere. They are not so interested in change, everywhere. It's the same in America, it's the same everywhere.

The big thing for the day after tomorrow

Q: Last question. Mobile is the current big thing and of tomorrow. Do you envision any other big things emerging after mobile?

Mario: If you go by these kitchens of the future, laboratories of the future, you are dealing with more augmented reality kind of things, images everywhere, coming out of your fingers and going into the mirror and going into the wall, that all of this is in the inventive stages. But I think that telephone, if we are talking about the next five years, not beyond that, then the telephone is the big thing. Because the people who are 14 now will be reading almost everything they read on a telephone. You and I don't, but they will. I see it, I see my grandchildren, the 12- and 13-year-olds, they spend time with this phone, and they read, and they look at videos and they look at television and they look at everything on this phone. Which to me... I use it like you use your phone, but I will not spend hours looking at videos on a phone, but they do. So I think that mentality will carry. Interesting times are coming.

(c) RIA Novosti

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Challenges of Global Media Communications

No matter which side of the information barricades you're on, the following trends are global and thus likely to affect the way you communicate. The three sides considered - ethical, technological, social – are pretty much interrelated.

First, the ethical side. According to Barbara Gibson, ABC, the 21st century model for modern businesses is to become global «within first 1-3 years». Now, unless your initial plan was to get global at such an early stage, it would be quite difficult to accommodate to such a status and suddenly start hearing from foreign clients.

For media the trend is also there. If your language is understood abroad, you're sure to get a share of a foreign audience. Website of The Moscow News, an English language newspaper with expats in mind, has 60% of visitors outside Russia. Quite naturally. At the same time,, the website of a Russian language community portal in Washington, D.C., has 20% audience outside the US. Does that surprise you?

Therefore both the business and media need to communicate their messages clearly and with the foreign reader in mind. Ann Wylie, another great IABC speaker, urges to keep such messages short and simple: 8-word sentences of 5-letter words for 100% comprehension by the Americans.

Because too much information is likely to cause noise. There are at least two ways to fight the information pollution. One is to treat is a a crime, as considered in the Future Global Ethical Issues, 2010-2025, The Millennium Project. The other, less drastic way, is to apply the big data and data journalism techniques to sort out the information and present it in the most appealing manner.

If you would like to be introduced to such techniques and study good cases of their use, please refer to the free online Data Journalism Handbook.

Second, the technological side. “The future of arts, media, and entertainment will be a global, participatory, tele-present, holographic, augmented reality conducted on future versions of mobile smart phones that engage new audiences in the ways they prefer to be reached and involved.” (Future Arts, Media, and Entertainment: Seeds for 2020).

The ubiquitous mobile gadget in the hands of the user is the reason behind media and corporate communications going cross-, trans- and multimedia. All, at your own risk and expense.

Third, the social side. Most top offline brands have found their alter egos in the online world. This, however didn't improve much their visibility. A recent study by GfK revealed that “surprisingly, significant numbers of consumers are not finding the product or brand information that they wanted, anywhere in the web”.

The reason for this could be the new intermediaries. The mostly visited and thus visible websites on the web are aggregators, search portals and social media. This is best illustrated with an infographic like this one from Nmap.

Media and corporate pressrooms are converging due to technology and relaxed ethics. On the media side this convergence results in churnalism, a kind of journalism which is heavily dependent on press releases, as described in this book by Nick Davies.

On the corporate side the convergence leads to to a misperception that a company may be considered a media publisher. Like in this case where a “content” agency of a retail giant boasts its client's magazine has more readers than any traditional media.

This leads us to the big question - what is the future of journalism and PR?

According to Paul Holmes, PR practitioners with journalistic skills should become competent in business practices in order to contribute to the C-Suite discussions. A clear road map, if you drop the discussions whether it should be PR over Marketing or the other way around.

With journalism, however, there is no such clear path. But there are tries, like this one from the European Journalism Centre 20th anniversary conference.

This blog post was based on a presentation originally prepared in Russian.