Real Time is On Time when it comes to news

Posted on June 28, 2009 by Comments Off

I’m starting to get fatigued from all the Michael Jackson coverage, but couldn’t resist being impressed by this post on the Loosewire blog about the online timing of MJ’s death reports and the gap between online media such as TMZ (who broke the news), and the mainstream media, who appeared flatfooted and trailed online news sources by over an hour in announcing Jackson’s death. The chronology of how the news broke online is fascinating, and he notes the difference in approach between online news sources and mainstream media:

It’s a strange new world where information travels this quickly. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing that traditional media tries to confirm stories the old fashioned way.

But the problem is the gap it leaves.

Jeremy further wrote that Twitter is the last piece of the puzzle, offering real time search for information that feeds the public’s need for information in a way that search engines (which still need to crawl the web) and traditional news sources cannot. This is a point my colleague David Patton (formerly of WSJ.Com) also made in this post, entitled “Search Engines Need to Get Into Real Time.”

Of course in spite of all the celebration of how online media is scooping mainstream media, there are instances when the web gets it wrong, sometimes deliberately.  Witness the number of reports about the supposed death of Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford and Natalie Portman, and most remarkably, the number of gullible people who believe them.

On the flip side of the coin there are the cynical ones such as celebrity blogger Perez Hilton who caught a firestorm when he thought Jackson faked his death. (“Perez Hilton’s Despicable Coverage of Michael Jackson’s Death”)

Strange new world indeed.

Apology from Langham Hotel

Posted on June 18, 2009 by Comments Off

Received this in email today:

Hi David

Just a quick not to acknowledge you comments on Langham Hotels International ‘Big Deal’ campaign.

In case you haven’t seen our apology interview, you may want to take a look at the link:

The videos were wrong.  You were right to tell us so, and we’re sorry.

Best regards


GM Shawn Campbell portrayed the incident as  “disconnect”.  It was great to hear him say his company remains committed to using social media.  The timing of the Youtube apology is a bit late, but as the first step in a long term rehabilitation of Langham Hotel’s image it’s a solid start.

Twitter is not a news source, deal with it

Posted on June 18, 2009 by Comments Off


Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Thanks to WE colleague Tac Anderson who pointed to this John Dvorak piece about how Twitter is fundamentally flawed as a news source. Dvorak listed seven flaws with Twitter as a provider of news, including incompleteness, inaccuracy, vulnerability to hoaxers, lack of analysis, skewed priorities, and so on. 

I agree with Dvorak’s views because they refute the oft-held position that Twitter is an emerging news source. Most culpable are the media pundits who breathlessly trumpet Twitter as some form of new journalism.  Most Twitter content about current events is biased, immediate, partial, opinionated.  Sometimes they are firsthand or on-location, especially at the onset of an occurrence.  Its content creators are not vested in ensuring the accuracy of facts and usually do not fact-check.  Their personal opinions matter most and they are not shy about leading with them.  In other words, Twitter is as far away from time-honored journalistic principles as you can get. 

When it comes to conventional journalism a dose of healthy skepticism and broader understanding of the writer’s context and slant is important, whether you’re reading the New York Times or the Straits Times. I doubt many intelligent consumers of reputable news sources regard every word as absolute truth.  Why should we expect the same of Twitter?

If taken for what it is—personal, in-the-moment impressions of an event that convey sense and color—Twitter has its place. 

There is an added bonus.

Due to the sheer number of personal opinions shared, sentiment measurement on Twitter is becoming a rising business nowadays. Twendz is a great tool in that regard. [Disclosure: Twendz was developed by my employer Waggener Edstrom.] I fully expect more such tools to be launched in the coming months.

After the coming wave of sentiment measurement tools such as Twendz abates, we will begin to see tools that predict future sentiment, or even outcomes, of events.  Twitter is a perfect incubator for experiments in the wisdom of crowds.  I can’t wait to see where this leads.

Singapore’s first Twitter Wedding, or Twedding

Posted on June 1, 2009 by Comments Off

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of attending my colleague Melvin Yuan’s wedding in Singapore.  This was billed as Singapore’s first twedding, and there was even an article written about it in the Straits Times, the country’s main paper. 

Go here to view the actual Twitter feed of the wedding.  The most recent tweets are about the coverage itself, but if you scroll down far enough you’ll see the realtime tweets during the wedding.

Other pics are here, care of Calvin Siew, another colleague.

The Saga of Langham Hotel’s “Big Deal” viral campaign

Posted on June 1, 2009 by Comments Off

Last week I came across this post in the Dark Side Hong Kong blog about a Langham Hotel online video that I felt painted the city in a bad light.  It depicted a tourist leaving the Langham Hotel and roaming Kowloon in search of a meal, struggling to order at a local daipaidong (street food stall), being served rice porridge with a large chicken foot, and finally retreating to the hotel to munch on spring rolls in the comfort of the hotel’s restaurant. 

View the video on Youtube.

As a longtime Hong Kong resident I was disturbed by the depiction of my city as a backwards Chinese city, so I retweeted:

RT @TheDarkSideHK @ewc21 Langham Hotel viral video proves parodying street food not the way to promote a hotel.
11:35 PM May 25th from web

Subsequently the videos were withdrawn as a result of the negative Twitter response from various people:

RT @TheDarkSideHK: A pretty ‘Big Deal’ indeed! Langham vids removed:
3:46 PM May 26th from web

An article in Marketing Magazine quoted Langham Hotel explaining their reasons for pulling the campaign:

“While we’re pleased that we’ve generated discussion in the forums with the videos we’ve created, we were disappointed that the satirical tone of the videos was misunderstood in some circles. As a result of the potential to magnify the tone in a direction that was not intended, we have decided not to continue with this campaign.”

I was displeased with the perceived lack of remorse, so I tweeted a response to Marketing Magazine:

@MarketingEds “Satirical nature?” I don’t think Langham gets why their viral video is alienating people.
9:12 PM May 26th from web

But here the story takes a bit of a personal turn.  Last night I had drinks with Douglas White, a business associate and friend who runs Prosperity Research and is fairly active in Hong Kong’s social media scene.  To my chagrin I found out that his company was behind Langham’s campaign.  A long conversation ensued, where I discovered that:

  • The video I saw was the third in a series, and the fourth video was to be the payoff, where the tourist ventures out again and truly enjoys Hong Kong after her initial bout of xenophobia.
  • Doug was clearly angered and hurt by the negative response, with some of the attacks becoming fairly personal.  In one Dark Side HK post the word “douchebag” was used. He was painted as a foreigner living in Hong Kong who did not appreciate or understand it.
  • Doug wanted to respond online with a lot more detail, but was not allowed to do so by his client. 

There are some lessons here about social media campaigns that I think we can all learn from:

  • The bulk of the work in a social media campaign occurs after you release your content into the wild.  Persistent listening and vigilant responding will help steer the message.  I liken it to floating a paper boat down a river; the real work starts when you release it, you have to follow along and make sure it gets to its desired destination.  Many marketers sit back and relax once their viral video, mini-site, DM, etc. is released.
  • You cannot assume social media consumers have context.  They log in and out, catch discrete pieces of information and respond in kind.  Think first about creating viral content that is self-contained and includes all the context required, don’t break up the message for an eventual payoff.
  • First impressions count.  Anticipate the fast twitch response and design your content as if that is the only reaction you will get. 
  • Satire and humor are dangerous playmates.  Always test your content with a sample of the intended audience, not just the closed box of marketing team plus vendor.

In time we will forget about this.  I applaud Langham Hotel for their foray into digital marketing and hope this incident doesn’t scare them off future campaigns.  And I apologized to Doug.

Cathay Pacific and the Customer

Posted on May 16, 2009 by Comments Off

Cathay Pacific Cargo Boeing 747-400BCF taxis t...

As a frequent flier with Cathay Pacific, and a shareholder, I’ve always been interested in Cathay Pacific’s management.  The entire aviation industry is going through a period of turmoil, but of course it is also these interesting times that prove the mettle of leaders. 

I recently attended a breakfast where the key speaker was Tony Tyler, Cathay’s CEO.  I enjoyed his presentation, significantly enhanced by his candor and willingness to be transparent about the challenges that Cathay Pacific is facing today.

Afterwards I wrote him a simple email expressing my appreciation, and to my surprise received a reply. This impressed because CEOs usually delegate such correspondence to their customer service or PR department.  The fact that Mr. Tyler took the time to personally reply speaks volumes about Cathay’s commitment and attention to customer satisfaction.

Cathay Pacific and its subsidiaries employ over 27,000 staff worldwide.

Here is another example of his personal attention to customers.

The email is here, posted with Tony’s permission.




From: Tony Tyler
Sent: Saturday, May 16, 2009 3:00 PM
To: David Ko

Hi David,

Sorry for the slow reply, and many thanks for your kind comments.

As far as future fuel hedging strategy is concerned, here are some bullet points:

  • We WILL continue to hedge!
  • We’ll attempt to manage both volatility (smoothing out the ups and downs) and sustainability (making sure we always have at least some supply at around our breakeven price or lower).
  • We’ll take care in future to limit our exposure to unexpected and extreme changes in prices by implementing “stop loss” provisions.

So that’s the plan – but of course there’s a cost to this, which looks high at the moment!

As far as the B787 goes, it will be a very good aircraft but possibly a bit small for CX.  It’s really a replacement (greatly improved) for the B767, which we don’t have.  Another very interesting aircraft for us will be the A350, which uses similar technology but is larger. 

We are also very unwilling to be early customers of ANY aircraft type, for various good reasons.  So far, experience of early customers of A380s and B787s has validated this view!

Best wishes


>>> David Ko <> 08-05-2009 09:31 AM >>>

Mr. Tyler,

I wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed your presentation yesterday.

As a Diamond member and a shareholder, I had been pondering the future of Cathay Pacific recently and thus was gratified to hear your confidence in an eventual complete recovery, even if the timing is fuzzy (as it is for all of us.)

I was also hoping to hear more details about your future fuel hedging strategy, and your thoughts on purchase of fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 787.  We didn’t get to that, but you covered a lot of other measures in place which is terrific.  While acquisition of other airlines is tough as you mentioned, I did wonder if you would consider acquisitions that relate to technology on board aircraft that improve the experience, for example companies that implement wireless broadband. 

There is no doubt that Cathay is one of the best-managed airlines in the world, owing in no small part to you, both in your current role as CEO, and previously as COO. 

I look forward to cheering you on as you continue in your current role and also as chairman of IATA.

Take care



Update (20 May):

Met a business associate for lunch today who read this post and automatically assumed I was making a business approach to Cathay Pacific.  Turns out I can’t send emails to companies and blog about it afterwards without people thinking I’m trying to win a client.  Folks I do occasionally send emails to complete strangers because I like them, not because I want their business.  :-)

Censorship for Hire in China

Posted on May 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Yesterday’s Southern City Daily (南方都市報) carried an exposé on a rising segment of China’s booming digital PR industry, deletion of negative articles and postings.  According to the article (Chinese-only online version here), organizations or individuals claiming to be PR companies are offering to delete such negative content on request, asking for fees ranging from RMB10,000 ($1280) for major portals such as and, to RMB1,000 ($128) for local web sites. 

A reporter posing as a food company approached one of these firms and was able to have negative news specific to that company deleted within a day.  The entire transaction was done over the web, with upfront cash deposited into a bank account.  The article also said that the only kind of news these companies won’t touch is anything government-related.

How do they do it?

While some firms claim they employ hackers, practitioners of this dark craft say it’s just media relations.  Portals such as and commonly carry news from mainstream news sources, so these PR firms simply ask their journalist friends in the media outlets to contact the portals and request the news items be taken down.  It’s that simple.  What’s unusual is the speed and efficiency that these firms can promise.

The article first appeared in “Legal Evening Daily” (法制晚報).

Appearances can be deceiving

Posted on April 15, 2009 by Comments Off

This doesn’t have anything to do with PR, it just made me realize what cynical people we’ve all become.  It’s rare to get a wake up call like this.

Watch Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent by clicking here.


In the 12 hours since the post above Susan Boyle has become an Internet sensation, with over 10 million views on YouTube, and right this moment she is the top trending topic on Twitter. I have watched the video a few more times since last night and it never fails to touch me.

Here’s an eloquent post about the Susan Boyle phenomenon from the Seattle PI blog.

And a comment under that post that sheds more light on Susan’s life:

Hello My name is Ann and I come from just a few miles from Susans home. I’m in Edinburgh and she is in Blackburn which is a teeny wee village on the outskirts of Bathgate. Susan lived with her parents until she sadly lost her Mum 2 years ago. they never allowed her to have boyfriends and she was a good girl and listened to them whilst others, including me, would have rebelled.
She is the talk of EVERYWHERE right now. i hope she can handle her fame and that she has plenty people looking after her and her cat Pebbles.
Go Susan!!
Do it for us plain Jane Scots lassies :)

Fewer businesses planning to hire in HK

Posted on April 14, 2009 by Comments Off

Received the Hudson Report for Q1 2009 in my inbox while I was on leave last week.  (Hudson is a recruiting agency.)

Across the region China continues to have the most positive business sentiment, but Hong Kong has become worse, with more employers planning to reduce headcount than increase it:

[Quoting from report summary]

  • Hiring expectations have fallen again this quarter. In this survey of 612 executives across key business sectors, 14% plan to increase hiring in Quarter Two (Q2) 2009, compared with 18% in Q1 2009. The proportion forecasting reduced headcount has doubled, from 11% to 22% this quarter;
  • Hiring expectations in Hong Kong are lower than in the other markets surveyed in Asia and are at their lowest since The Hudson Report started tracking the market in Q4 1998;
  • Across all sectors, 51% of respondents have implemented initiatives to cut HR-related costs in the last six months;
  • Headcount reduction and lower bonus payments are the most widely adopted cost-cutting measures;
  • Employers are still using a range of channels to find candidates, with direct recruitment and recruitment consultancies being the most popular;
  • Companies see open communication and CEO messages as the most effective ways of maintaining staff morale in tough economic conditions.

That last point is particularly critical; in tough times, communication from senior leadership needs to increase rather than decrease.

Survey of China’s PR agencies

Posted on March 31, 2009 by Comments Off

I had the privilege recently of attending this year’s first annual committee meeting of CIPRA (China International Public Relations Association) on behalf of Waggener Edstrom.  In attendance were the leaders of almost all the major PR agencies in China, which also made it an opportunity to reconnect with a few old friends.

One of the most interesting parts of the proceedings was listening to the results of the 2008 PR agency survey, comprising responses from 90 agencies operating in China.  While the actual results will be announced later by CIPRA, I found some tidbits quite interesting, for example:


  • 61 agencies out of 90 have offices in two cities or more.  Beijing remains most dominant, with Shanghai second, and Guangzhou and Chengdu at third and fourth.
  • The two largest sectors by market share were Automobile and Technology, at 15% and 14% respectively. Other sectors include FMCG (13%), Healthcare (8%), and Manufacturing (7%).
  • Emerging sectors were Digital, PA, CSR/Corporate, and Event Marketing.  Olympics-related PR also accounted for a large slice of the market in 2008, understandably.


  • Women outnumber men in the industry, at around 70%. 
  • Local agencies are by far the most numerous, as well as the largest.  The average number of staff in local agencies is 254, versus 125 for international firms. 


  • Out of 90 agencies surveyed, 66 have established digital teams.  Since 2005, every year over 10 agencies report establishing a digital practice.
  • Most common digital deliverables include: Strategic counsel, forum seeding, online news distribution, online features, blogger relations, online promotion, sentiment monitoring, SEO.

Outlook for 2009

  • Only 37% of agencies surveyed rated 2009 prospects as “good”, versus 71% in the previous year’s survey.  Of the remainder, 38% say “average”, 20% say “not very good”, 2% say “bad”. 

Obviously digital is on everyone’s minds, with the emergence of mobile computing (3G etc.) being closely watched for how that can be used as a PR channel.

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