As the 1990s turned into the dotcom boom, we used to play a game which we named for Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel. Since we were a bit sniffy about the term “disintermediation”, the game was played by each contestant naming an industry which we thought was about to be edited out of the value chain by the reality of virtual communications. We then argued the case for its eventual extinction, and took a secret ballot on the arguments. I can recall the music industry, real world betting shops, cinema, and much retail banking disappearing that way. Now I look round and see that businesses still exist in these spaces. We were smart, but not smart enough. We reckoned without the powerful drive to “re-intermediation” – players moving to a spot where they could add value of a different type more appreciated by a networked marketplace – and we certainly did not see that most of the blighted industry activity would drift on for another few decades, ever more marginal, but representing value to diminishing populations of addicts who are willing to pay more and more to sustain their “fix”. When I went to the US last week my daily newspapers in the village shop cost me £3.00; on my return they cost £3.40. I have both these papers as Apps, and this has become my preferred way of reading them, but do I really want to attack the economic basis of the village shop? Disintermediation is much more complex than I thought in 1999.

And I never won the competition. My candidate for volcanic disruption and extinction was always advertising and PR agencies. According to Sir Martin Sorrell, who should know, these have now disappeared entirely, but I suspect that this is because he has renamed his world-leading enterprizes “data and marketing agencies”. But two events brought all of this to mind. In the first place I saw a headline which said, on October 6, “PR Newswire and Ektron Strike Up One-of-a-kind Strategic Alliance”, and then I had the pleasure of listening to and questioning David Levin, CEO of UBM, at the Outsell Signature Event in Phoenix last week. (Pause for Plug and statement of interest: I work part-time for Outsell, I moderated parts of this meeting, I know of nowhere else in the industry where you can speak with CEOs in depth under Chatham House rules – I cannot tell you what they said – but for sheer depth and understanding talking to Scott Key (IHS), Y S Chi (Elsevier) and David Levin is a bargain at any price, though here it was surrounded by case studies in change from another 13 CEOs and senior executives. Miss it at your Peril – it will be in Europe next year! Obviously I am not going to quote the views of David Levin, and no information market disruptor is ever wise to predict the demise of a part of his customer base while they are still buying services, but I left the room more and more convinced that the “strategy and monitoring” role of these agencies is beginning to shift, even if the creative role stays in place.

So what is this interesting strategic alliance at PRN all about? For me, it is simply another stage in the coupling of PR releases with media response measurement with market response measurement. The Press Release of yesteryear, that single page of grey, effusive but cautious text with the typical note for editors on the participants has given way to documents built around demos and video presentations, with multiple media input, intended to ring bells not only amongst media commentators, but to awaken financial analysts and gain general- to-specialist network user reaction. The destination of much of this stuff is social networks and You Tube. The idea is to launch the communication and then track it, and then track the ripples of activity that circle out from it, in blogs and tweets, and then to be able to take part in, redirect, respond, learn from the feedback loop. Increasingly this seems to be what marketing departments do, and increasingly they can do it for themselves (countless book publishers – yes, even them! – use a simple  package to launch a seperate web presence for every book published, using as tools the Superdu components, which any marketing assistant can handle). So, PR Newswire, as the largest distributor of “press releases” (, now moves into media monitoring by plugging its PR Newswire Sync application into Ektron’s widely used corporate marketing web management platform ( The vital part of all of this is the PR Newswire Listening Dashboard, which enables a primary analysis and social media monitoring tool. This reminds me of something I have been watching for a long time – the evolution of the old Durrants media monitoring outfit into Gorkana (, where the emphasis is on the analysis. Whether we are talking CRM (corporate relationship management) or product launch, it seems to me that more of the game is now managed inside the corporate marketing function, more analysis can be done there with these tools, and more strategy can be created there than ever before. No wonder Sir Martin and his merry men are building the world’s largest data dump of consumer buying decisions, to get “predictive insight” into likely purchasing outcomes: they must add value now by the shovel load, since a whole sector of their traditional skills has been peeled off and re-installed as workflow on the desktop of the most lowly (and low paid) marketing department operative. One of Ektron’s largest customers is the UK National Health Service!

Some people will say that this is reskilling an industry that had very few skills to start with. Other, kinder, souls will point to the continuing need for creativity, and I can see re-intermediation happening already. Typical would be Jeremy Swinfen Green’s Amberlight Agency ( Meeting Jeremy recently for the first time in 15 years (as a young digital ad-man he helped me carry the argument for AdHunter (later launched as Fish4) in a Cotswold country house hotel before a very dubious Northcliffe board) I began to see, through his practise as a very busy Human-Computer Interface (HCI) advisor where this fragmentation of skills was taking us. Anyone for a game of Under the Volcano? I am still gong to choose advertising and PR for the lava and hot ash…!


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