BC Tip: ITV - Not loving islands of information

British broadcaster ITV fails to make the most of a significant new strategy

ITV plc corporate home page

ITV plc corporate home page

The Feature

UK-based broadcasting and production company ITV plc announced a major new strategy in June.

As of early August, the corporate site home page http://www.itvplc.com/ has a rotating carousel promoting the 2018 Interim Results, the 2017 Annual Results, and information on ‘What we do’.

The new strategy is mentioned, but in an area under the carousel and below the ‘fold’ on many devices. Along with an overview, there are links to find out more by downloading the 2018 Interim Results presentation or the Interim Report.

The home page strategy area also offers link buttons relating to ‘Broadcast & Online’ and ‘ITV Studios’, but – as with the presentation and report links -  these open PDFs without warning although at least they do appear in new browser windows.

The home page does not link to the new strategy page, housed at About ITV > Our Strategy.

The Takeaway

At a time when ITV has a higher public profile than usual – thanks in large part to the popularity of its Love Island programme in the UK  - the corporate site misses an opportunity to sell its new strategy, and how the company will capitalise on its current success.

The site still feels as if it is in ‘news’ mode rather than presenting a consistent, integrated view of the new strategy. This might be understandable in the immediate aftermath of a big announcement that the web team may or may not have been privy to, but they have had enough time to rectify matters.

Many users on smaller screens might not scroll, and so miss the strategy area on the home page. The strategy could have been promoted in the carousel as a main item. Even though the timing meant it was competing with the Interim Results part of the announcement, some mention of it could have at least been made on the Interim Results panel.

The PDF links were probably a temporary measure when the announcement was made and perhaps before the strategy page existed. But linking to them now, instead of the strategy page, does not makes sense.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

Why waste the media's time when you don't have to?

An online press release archive should be a useful tool for journalists to do their jobs. So why are companies complicating things by separating press releases into different buckets that might be clear inside the company but make little sense to anyone else? Jason Sumner looks at a handful of the worst examples.

There is a lot of confusion at the moment about what should go in media sections on corporate websites, which reflects wider doubts about the purpose of company press offices when anyone with a smartphone can be a ‘journalist’.

My colleague David Bowen has written about this dilemma recently, concluding that press offices don’t know exactly what they are for any more, and so their online media sections don’t either; and suggests some sensible remedies.

The confusion about online media sections could help explain a trend I’ve spotted on a few corporate sites recently: separating press releases into two or more categories, for reasons that may be clear internally, but do not make sense to anyone else.

Three of the most puzzling examples are from French luxury goods maker LVMH, US-based Campbell Soup Company and Allianz, the Germany-based insurance giant.

LVMH – distinction without an obvious difference

A journalist unfamiliar with LVMH’s site but who wants to look for the latest release or search the archive, will need to decide whether to click into ‘News’ or ‘Press releases

Both are separate pages within LVMH’s media section, and they are given equal billing on the section landing page. Having two areas to search is already potentially time-consuming and frustrating for journalists, even if they might eventually work out the difference between ‘news’ and ‘press releases’.

But is there a difference? Not one that I could tell for sure.

The latest items on the ‘News’ page yesterday were about LVMH being ranked the most attractive employer in France by LinkedIn; several stories about LVMH’s brands, Loewe, Benefit Cosmetics and Louis Vuitton, etc; and a partnership between LVMH and Central Saint Martins, a London art school.

On the ‘Press releases’ page, there were releases about financial results, dividends and mergers, and the top story was about LVMH making a bid to take full control of its subsidiary Christian Dior.

So maybe the distinction is about ‘financial news’ and the rest? Except that in ‘Press releases’ there was a story about LVMH launching a cultural centre in Paris, in a ceremony attended by the mayor of the city and the French president at the time, Francois Hollande. Two other ‘press releases’ were about the company launching an innovation award and a prize for young fashion designers. All of which seem appropriate for ‘News’.

Perhaps the difference is about news about the wider group versus the brands? Or maybe LVMH sees ‘News’ as exciting and ‘Press releases’ about the boring stuff? Or maybe it is because of internal divisions within LVMH.

Hard to tell for sure, and there might be a perfectly logical set of criteria, but why should journalists have to work this out? The point is that the distinction is unclear enough that journalists will need to spend time clicking on both pages, when one page (perhaps with a set of filters) would be easier.

Further adding to journalists’ confusion, and potential frustration, is that the filters offered in each sub-section are different. Neither set is comprehensive, but journalists searching ‘News’ are given year and month filters, in addition to those for ‘All business groups’, LVMH and several of its business divisions such as ‘Fashion & Leather Goods’, etc. Journalists searching the ‘Press releases’ page only get year and month filters.

The Campbell Soup Company – baffling division

In Campbell’s ‘Newsroom’ section there are different pages for ‘Campbell News’ and ‘Press releases’, immediately confronting journalists with the same problem as on LVMH.com, where to click?

While there appears to be some kind of internal logic in the LVMH example, the distinction between releases is even murkier on the Campbell’s site.

When we looked, both ‘Newsroom’ and ‘Press releases’ led with the same release about the company’s third quarter results. The second release on each page appeared to be about the same story, the installation of a solar array at the company’s headquarters in Camden, New Jersey, each with a slightly different take. Then, further down, the release that appeared on ‘Press releases’ also turned up in ‘Newsroom’. Add to this the fact that the filters are different in each section, and the overall experience is baffling.

Allianz – filters across five pages

Allianz has one page for ‘all’ press releases – although it is badly labelled ‘overview’ in the mega dropdown menu under ‘News’. So far, so much better than LVMH or Campbell’s. However, the subject filters to help narrow down the list are on separate pages – ‘company’, ‘studies’, ‘financials’, ‘commitment’ and ‘business’, each with separate links in the mega dropdown panel, and on the media landing page. Clicking on ‘financials', for example, leads to a page with the original list filtered for finance-related releases. If and when journalists figure out the unusual system, they will potentially still need to click in and out of five pages, if they are searching for more than one release.

The above three are not the only examples. Caterpillar, the US-based farm equipment company, has ‘Caterpillar news’ and ‘Corporate press releases’. Another company divides theirs between ‘group’ and ‘trade’.

One deep, searchable archive

All of the above online press release services could be improved by thinking about how journalists actually access press releases from a website – or speaking to them to find out. In our experience, the best services are simple but highly useful – well-labelled, well-signposted, deep, searchable archives (with keyword search and relevant filters). Coming to that conclusion is probably the easy part. The difficulty comes in overcoming the internal politics – governance, in our terms – that are likely to have led to the separate buckets in the first place.

- Jason Sumner

What to do with the poor old media section

The exploding complexity of the media world has left the Cinderella of website sections behind, says David Bowen.

Who do corporate websites serve the best? One way to tell is to look at the Bowen Craggs Index, which is based on a ‘user-centred’ approach. Our reviewers put themselves into the heads of different groups, and see how well they are served: the scores come out of that process.

I’ve extracted averages for each of ‘serving’ metrics in the Database from our top 30 list – that is, the best online communicators among large companies - and have found intriguing differences. The best served group belongs to what we call ‘society’ – a combination of CSR professionals and broader groups interested in the company's behaviour (reputation management would be another way of putting it). They score 24.4 out of 32 on average. Then come investors and jobseekers on 23.1 each, and customers on 22.4.

Bringing up the rear is ‘serving the media’, on a distinctly unimpressive 20.6. If this were a school exam, the media section gets 64 per cent while 'society' gets 76. I’ve done similar sums over the years, and the results are always similar. The media section is too often the Cinderella, and it shows: press releases poorly organized, background information thin, image libraries weak. But journalists are a key to that other thing companies are so good at, reputation management. What’s going on?

It’s surely because the nature of news has been transformed by the internet, but few companies have got their heads round what this really means for them. That, as with so many things, is reflected in their websites: press offices don’t really know what they should be doing, so their web outlets suffer from a lack of clear purpose. 

Traditionally, press officers have concentrated on cultivating a small number of influential journalists with well tried techniques (such as lunch). Many still prefer to do this and it probably still returns maximum results for a set amount of effort. They may have expanded their group of influencers to bloggers or tweeters, but either way the website is not terribly relevant. They do not spend much time helping to get the basics of the media section working smoothly, and it shows.

But I would be libelling them terribly if I claimed they were not very aware of the changes the internet has wrought on their profession. Two changes in particular: the blurring of what a ‘journalist’ is, and the multiple earthquakes caused by social media.

What is a journalist? Is it still a person paid by a publisher to produce words? Does it now include influential bloggers and tweeters? Is it anyone who blogs and tweets? Is it anyone who reads blogs and tweets, and passes them on? Is it everyone (‘there are seven billion journalists’ was once a fashionable line)?  Bringing this back to the press officers - who is it their job to influence?

Every organization has tried to understand social media, and there are signs that some corporations are cracking it: grasping that it is not one thing but many is a key to this, as is getting its huge role of reputation management. But who is in charge of it? Marketing and customer service people jumped on it first; press people leapt at it too, but too often grabbed what they could without asking the simple journalistic questions: why and how? 'Social media dashboards’ appeared, embedded Twitter feeds are still appearing; but I wonder who is using these, and how. Were I still a journalist I would have my own dashboard like Hootsuite, and I’d set it up to follow the people and subjects I needed. I don't think I'd spend too much time looking at social media on corporate sites.

So maybe the targets are broader groups: if not the seven billion, then a congregation of journalists, bloggers, tweeters, ‘concerned consumers’, jobseekers, NGO people, politicians, regulators and so on. This would explain two linked trends. First there is a fashion for giving the old press section a name that is more inclusive: ‘News and features’, News and Insights’ for example. Second, some sites do not provide just the raw material from a which a journalist can start crafting a piece (which is what a press release is), but provide full-formed pieces. ‘The press release is dead’, the head of Coca-Cola’s site declared a few years ago – what he meant was, you don’t need to read a story repackaged by journalists when you can get it beautifully written straight from us. A useful way of thinking of this is wholesale versus retail: with wholesale you give journalists the basic product and let them do it up and sell it in their own shop; with retail you provide perfectly packaged products direct to the consumer. 

Given all these different things, it is hardly surprising that so many media sections are a bit of muddle. The answer, I think, is to untangle them: to straighten out the intertwined strands of spaghetti and lay them neatly next to each other. This can be done, but it requires a change of thinking within the company – as ever it’s about management, not technology.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Acknowledge that ‘traditional’ journalists (perhaps boosted by a few influential bloggers) are not only the most important single group to target, but that they need to be served in a specific way. Keep a traditional press section but make it really useful for these people. Let them check names and dates easily in fully-searchable archive of press releases; give them background material or link to useful pages around your web estate. Maybe management speeches should be here. Include a decent image library. Most important, give them good contacts so that can get in touch at any time of day or night.
  • Acknowledge too that a much broader audience wants to know about your company – our online surveys show surprising numbers of non-journalists saying they are looking for ‘news’. Give it to them in the form of features, soft news articles, interviews – in text, video, audio, graphics, whatever. This is of course what many companies are already doing with online magazines, and they’re doing it well (some, like Coca Cola Journey and the late-departed SAB Miller site, pretty much are magazines with a few bits added).
  • But - and this is the key - separate the two clearly. Getting labels right is crucial. Use a word that says ‘this is for professional journalists’ on the press section – call it press or media. Be even more explicit by calling it ‘For journalists’ (I like this). Don’t include the word ‘news’. The more general material will need a home, and that can be tailored according to need. GSK’s Behind the science is what it says it is; so is Goldman Sachs Our thinking. If it’s a magazine, call it that, as Bayer does.
  • Corporate social media needs to be treated carefully – divided into its different channels, and managed primarily by the same people who run the corporate website. Press officers may be involved, of course, and may even run channels – but only if they understand exactly why they are doing it, and who their audiences are.

What management changes will this need? Well, the press office will run the ‘professional’ bit (along with the digital team of course). Should it also run the softer channels? If not, who will? Who will manage social media? Are press offices as they exist now 'fit for purpose'? Should they be rebranded as reputation management departments?  Do you need a press office at all … the questions have a habit of snowballing. But they need to be answered, or the none of the audiences will be as well served as they should be and corporate websites will continue to underperform badly in our ‘serving the media’ metric.

David Bowen

The word is greater than the film

We recently tweeted a link to an interesting piece of market research from Addison Group on the things journalists most want on a corporate website. One of them is video transcripts - most journalists don't have time to watch the videos themselves, but they do want to pick out quotes. That reminded me of something a former financial analysts told us the other day - that he didn't watch webcasts but did scan the transcripts. This implies that transcripts are not just a useful extra (and good for accessibility), they may actually be more important than the video itself. Which of course leads to the question, should you just publish the transcript and forget the video? Brave, but not necessarily that stupid.

David Bowen

Twitter is the new newswire

Almost exactly nine years ago, I spent an evening discussing the future of corporate reporting with the European head of one of the world’s major business news wires – the organisations that quoted companies were, back then, obliged to use for disseminating results and other market-sensitive information.

The big mistake that her firm’s rivals were making, she said, was to obsess about competing with each other. “In the long term, we all have one common enemy – and that's Google,” she declared.

Her point, back at that dinner in 2006, was that investor relations teams soon wouldn't need to pay companies like hers buckets of money to ensure that their results information is distributed in ways that meet global regulatory requirements. Thanks to developments like eXtensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL), Google would provide the mechanism for that – just like it does for other forms of information.

Nine years on, the wire chief’s fears are finally proving well founded – but it turns out that she picked the wrong enemy.

Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs cut out the news wire middleman and distributed its quarterly earnings statement by publishing it on its corporate website and promoting it via its Twitter feed.

Yet why has it taken so long for a really big name company to do this? After all, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) gave its blessing for corporate websites to be used for material corporate disclosure way back in 2008.

Well, back then the SEC emphasised that if companies wanted to publish market-moving material on their websites, they needed to make investors aware that that’s where to look for it. So in terms of distribution, the news wires still had an advantage – they could take care of “pushing” information across the markets – something that a website could not do on its own.

But as Goldman Sachs proved this month, a Twitter feed can provide a corporate website with the spreading agent it needs to make the business wire redundant at last (see the SEC’s guidance on social media disclosure here).

If this trend catches on, it's good news for corporate web managers and their colleagues in the IR team. They will have more control over how their results and other announcements are reported – and fewer middlemen to pay.

Not such good news for the news wires, though. Or Google. 

- Scott Payton