Sunday, August 29, 2010

Media training - The importance of statistics

I have posted a new article on my website about why spokespeople should have key statistics up their sleeve to support their viewpoints when being interviewed by the media, how they can gather them, and what more they need to do to add value to them. To read more....

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist and is author of A Perfect Press Release - or Not?, a guide to writing press releases. She also runs media spokesperson training workshops and one-on-one sessions, and article writing skills courses. Other spokesperson and writing tips can be found on her website:

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Media training assists customer interaction

I have posted a new article on my website for media spokespeople about how media interaction can complement customer interaction and vice versa. This will help those spokespeople who begrudge the time and effort they have to invest to provide good value in media interviews.

For example, by broadening their understanding of the markets in which they operate to give good value in a media interview, spokespeople will be able to feed this knowledge back into their customer base. Similarly, they can gather rich market intelligence while interacting with customers that will elevate them to the ranks of sort-after spokespeople.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Mobile payments fight poverty in Africa

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 30 July 2010

By the end of next year almost three times as many consumers globally will use their mobile phones to make person to person payments than those who will use them to conduct traditional banking functions, according to ABI Research. The developing world is embracing mobile payment services with enthusiasm wherever they are offered, says senior analyst Mark Beccue.

“It is becoming the first financial service for previously unbanked people, and may make a real contribution towards lifting them out of poverty.” The biggest mobile payment success story to date in Africa is mobile operator Safaricom, which has cornered 78% of this market in Kenya, with its M-PESA system, which enables money to be transferred between mobile phone users.

“Before the introduction of M-PESA, 15% of the adult population of Kenya was banked, and now 55% transact through mobile banking or bank in the traditional way,” says Simon Russell, managing executive for financial services at Accenture South Africa.

He says in South Africa the picture is a bit different because 56% of the adult population is banked and 60% of individuals over 16 have access to a mobile device, according to Accenture’s research. Nedbank recently entered into an agreement with Vodacom to bring M-PESA to South Africa, and intends to launch the service later this year.

Those signing up for the service, will be able to deposit money at authorised retail outlets and send it to mobile phone users anywhere in South Africa, much like Safaricom’s service in Kenya. Recipients will then be able to redeem the cash from authorised outlets or ATMs located near to them, says Ingrid Johnson, group managing executive for retail and business banking at Nedbank.

Those using M-PESA will also be able to use money stored in their electronic purses to purchase goods from conventional retailers and spazas that are using the service, by sending the value of the transaction to a designated cell phone number. The same thing could apply when paying for taxi fares.

Johnson says the electronic purse will be password protected, to stop any unauthorised person from accessing it. “M-PESA is the answer for the unbanked sector of the population.”

She says employers could also pay their casual workers by depositing money into their M-PESA electronic purses, which is much safer than them carrying cash around. However, the amount of money being transferred will be restricted to small amounts, in terms Fica regulations.

In the future, functionality could be extended to other services like enabling users to purchase funeral policies, as Safaricom has done in Kenya. When delivering services, the banks need to recognise the affordability levels of different consumer sectors and the devices they use, says Johnson.

For example, M-PESA can be accessed with basic phones, whereas mobile internet banking requires a more sophisticated phone, and full internet banking with richer functionality requires a laptop or PC. “We need to walk in the shoes of people with different needs.”

She says Nedbank also plans to launch a virtual credit card that is loaded on the customer’s phone and is activated and deactivated every time it is used. This is more secure than using a conventional credit card when making purchases online or at retail point of sale.

The bank is intending to provide increasingly rich functionality through electronic channels. “The objective is to provide a window through which customers can subscribe to different services,” says Johnson.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Internet banking users can prevent phishing and pharming

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 30 July 2010

Internet banking is available at all hours of the day and night, from anywhere, and is a cost efficient service to deliver. However, it is vulnerable to malicious practices such as identity theft, phishing, and pharming - whereby a user gets redirected to a bogus website.

“Users can have all the virus protection in the world, but it is up to ISPs to ensure their servers are protected against pharming,” says Simon Webster, technical consultant at Webcom. This malicious practice involves manipulation at the point where the website address, or domain name, is translated into a numerical IP address.

Another common scam is the harvesting of email addresses for the purpose of using them for spam and other unsolicited marketing activity. “Harvesters could get as much as $500 for a list of 10,000 authenticated email addresses,” says Webster.

These email addresses are obtained in various ways, including enticing users to respond to free offers or to forward chain mail-type emails to all their friends, and syphoning of the email addresses to the harvester’s database. Another method of harvesting is to use a program called a bot to infiltrate databases to harvest email addresses, or to get the bot to feed random names into a database and come out with likely email addresses.

For example, the bot might be instructed to come up with 1000 first names, 1000 surnames and 1000 company names, either randomly or perhaps relating to a specific industry sector. “They might get less than 1% hit rate for real email addresses, but they just leave the bot running,” says Webster.

Then there are botnets, used by hackers to take control of tens of thousands of PCs and, unbeknown to the users, use them for malicious intent. “These hackers are referred to as botnet herders or shepherds,” he says.

When doing internet banking it is risky for users to use a PC that is not under their control or under the control of their company, especially when travelling. In an internet cafe, there could be a network sniffer in the back office that logs the activity of users, or a key logger device might be used to capture their key strokes.

“Hackers can download what is being typed remotely from 10 to 100 metres away using Bluetooth, for example while sitting outside the internet cafe in a car,” says Webster. However, he says, shoulder surfing is one of the most common causes of unauthorised access to personal information.

For example, a so-called trusted colleague watches what a user is doing or the user is interrupted or leaves the PC unattended in the middle of what he or she is doing while getting a cup of coffee and gains unauthorised access. But the banks are addressing this kind of vulnerability with dual accreditation, for example sending a one time password to a person’s cel phone.

“The banks have gone beyond the bounds of banking regulations to protect their customers,” says Webster. He says the onus is therefore now on customers to follow the security protocols that are provided in the same way they would when using bank cards.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Cellphone banking surges in South Africa with the unbanked targeted

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 30 July 2010

In South Africa the number of internet banking users users has doubled over the past five years to about 3.2-million to 3.5-million, across all the banks. Mobile phone banking is growing even quicker in the country, although off a lower base, with a total of about 5-million users across all the banks, says Christo Vrey, managing executive for digital channels at Absa.

“We have 1.1 million internet banking users, and 2-million cell phone banking users - including 50,000 businesses.” FNB has nearly 2 million active cell phone banking users out of a total customer base of 6.6 million.

“We are adding 40,000 to 50,000 users a month,” says Ravesh Ramlakan, CEO of FNB Cellphone Banking Solutions. He says mobile banking usage is more prevalent among lower and middle income groups.

“Two-thirds of our customers earn less than R100,000 a year.” A lot of these people use internet banking when they are at work and use mobile banking when they are not.

“Our mobile banking usage peaks between 19:00 and 23:00, while our other banking channels volumes peak during the day,” says Ramlakan. He says customers have a choice between traditional mobile banking, whereby they dial a number, are presented with a screen, enter a PIN, and select options from a menu by pressing numbers, or using browser based mobile internet banking.

Some people use dial-up mobile banking for quick functions like requesting a balance, which take a few seconds, and use mobile internet banking for more complex options, says Ramlakan. He says the browser based option will increase in popularity as more internet enabled mobile phones become available at affordable prices.

In addition, more of the phones that are passed down from higher to lower income people will be internet enabled, which will help to boost usage. Over the next three years, FNB will be putting significant effort into its mobile banking portal because mobile internet banking is the future, says Ramlakan.

He says beyond the boarders of South Africa, the bank has been offering mobile banking in Namibia and Botswana since 2007, and in Zambia and Swaziland for six months, and is launching services in Lesotho and Tanzania over the next six months. Mobile phone banking is ideal for people living far from bank branches and ATMs, and is a good way for banks to broaden their reach across the continent without having branches and ATMs everywhere, says Ramlakan.

Brad Gillis, CEO for regulated cluster at BankservAfrica says although the adoption rate of internet banking has been steady over the past few years in South Africa, growth has been hampered by the fact that until recently it required a PC or laptop to use internet banking. “But with more mobile phones with internet capabilities becoming available, the take-up should be a lot higher.”

He says more than 90% of internet and mobile banking, ATM and retail point of payment transactions that involve settlement between two banks are handled by the company’s electronic funds transfer switch. Last year it switched 2.5 billion transactions with a total value of seven to R8-trillion.

“We switch the majority of the low value high volume payment transactions between the banks,” says Gillis. He says the ability to pay beneficiaries through real-time internet banking has been available for about three years and volumes are increasing by 74% a year.

In the past with batch systems, it could take a number of days for payments to be reflected in the recipient’s account, but the latest real-time technology allows this process to be completed in as little as one to two minutes. “Three of the large banks are already offering this and a fourth is currently implementing it,” says Gillis.

He says today, less than 3% of payments to beneficiaries are made by cheque and the balance are made electronically. The South African mobile banking market is different to the rest of Africa because a significant percentage of the population have a traditional bank account, and the growth potential is therefore likely to be in the unbanked sector.

“Many of those who are banked have access to a PC at the home or in the office and can use internet banking,” says Gillis. He says the success of mobile payments is dependent on getting enough retailers to accept this type of payment method.

Cell phone airtime is also being used as a currency, for example to download ringtones, make donations and pay to download software from online mobile application stores. “Anyone who is not banked can do this,” he says.

However, as the unbanked population adopts alternative methods of transacting payments, this could result in them working around the banking system, instead of migrating to it. A mechanism is needed to transition these people to formal banking services.

But to achieve this the technology between the banked and the unbanked world will need to be interoperable, says Gillis.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Mobile banking growing across Africa

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 30 July, 2010

The use of mobile phone banking is growing across Africa and will continue to do so because a large percentage of the population have cell phones and no formal bank account, and live far away from the nearest bank or ATM.

Mobile banking presents a great opportunity for operators on the continent to increase revenues and those that have done so have reported a 10% increase in average revenue per user, says Konstantinos Tzingakis, head of Innovations Centre and partner management at Ericsson South Africa.

In South Africa and other parts of Africa the operators are partnering with the banks to provide mobile banking services. “Operators are not allowed to provide mobile banking services themselves in most parts of Africa due to regulatory restrictions,” says Tzingakis.

However, in many African countries airtime is passed from one phone user to another and used as currency, bypassing the formal banking system. He says one of the operators providing this type of service is Kenyan operator Safricom, which has signed up two-thirds of its 13 million subscribers to use its mobile banking service M-PESA, and is signing up 11,000 users a day.

“Safricom processes $10 million worth of transactions a day, with an average value of $20,” says Tzingakis. Bharti (previously Zain) has introduced an equivalent service, Zap, which it is marketing across Africa.

“MTN is also taking its mobile banking solution into Africa in partnership with Standard Bank,” says Tzingakis. He says mobile banking is as secure as internet banking, bearing in mind that the banks send one- time passwords to customers’ cell phones before they transact online, as an additional level of security.

With traditional mobile banking some transactions are done directly between the user and the bank as opposed to over the public internet, while with others the transaction request goes to the mobile operator first before being passed to the bank. Most mobile banking in Africa is currently done in the traditional way, but there is great potential for browser-based mobile internet banking on the continent as more affordable phones with this capability become available, says Tzingakis.

He says the more people get used to interacting online, the more they are likely to use mobile internet banking, and this is already starting to happen. For example, social networking is becoming very popular across the continent, partly due to arrangements between Facebook and operators like MTN, Bharti, and Orange allowing free access for activities such as interacting with friends, and posting messages, in some countries.

“They then charge normal data rates for things like video downloads,” he says.
Farmers are also using mobile internet for checking the going price of commodities to know where they are most likely to get a good price for their produce before taking it there to sell it.

Online activities like these will be a catalyst for growth in the use of mobile internet banking, says Tzingakis. He says Ericsson is developing mobile banking-related applications at its innovation centre that are suitable to the African market.

This includes an application that allows people to trade goods and services on their cell phone, with the payment processed through mobile banking, which is ideal for farmers. The company is also looking at developing mobile micro financing solutions that are suitable for the African market.

For example a farmer might need the finance to buy a water pump, and someone wanting to set up a laundry service might need to finance the equipment to do so. These people could access a website on their mobile phone, fill out a form about who they are, their requirements and a brief business plan and invite responses from those interested in financing.

“We are developing applications like this with a view to offering them to the operators to take to market,” says Tzingakis.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Diverse services have South African banks fired up

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 29 July 2010

Internet and mobile phone banking is expanding its reach into non-traditional areas. For example, today anyone can transfer money to a recipient anywhere in the world by internet or mobile banking through Absa’s local agreement with Western Union, which provides cross-border payment services across 200 countries, including parts of Africa.

“A recipient in Kenya can present proof of identity and redeem the money in local currency at a Western Union office,” says Christo Vrey, managing executive for digital channels at Absa. He says Absa customers can also prepay for electricity usage, on their cell phone, by selecting an option and entering a value that is then deducted from their bank account, and are then provided with a voucher number to feed into their meter.

“We will be releasing this functionality on internet banking at a later stage,” says Vrey.
He says the banks are also fired up about providing personal financial management services in the future, for example to allow customers to access a composite view of all their assets and liabilities with the bank, categorise the transactions and create a budget.

They could also provide customers with a view of all the products they have with the bank, and allow they to track the progress of an application for a new service, such as a credit card, in real-time. “This type of functionality was previously the realm of accounting applications, but it was complex to integrate it with banking information,” says Vrey.

He says the functionality of mobile phone banking is also expanding, and an increasing number of customers are accessing internet banking from their phones. He says users of Absa’s mobile portal have tripled since February.

“There is a specific section for the youth, which includes free ring tones and music, and we had 50,000 free music downloads last month.” Vrey says internet banking users need to be vigilant in protecting their information from malicious practices such as phishing when transacting online.

He says users should ensure they enter the bank’s correct website address themselves and never try to access it from a link in an email. “The banks will never send emails to customers asking them to click on a link to access internet banking.”

Users should also ensure there is a closed padlock symbol on the internet banking site, before transacting, because bogus websites do not have this lock. Absa has introduced an added security feature whereby customers are asked to enter a phrase known only to themselves, which is then presented to them each time they log in to confirm they are on the bank’s authentic website, says Vrey.

Another tip is that users can see if an email is part of phishing scam, by moving the mouse over the website link they have been asked to click on, without clicking on it. A window will then pop up displaying the real website address the link will connect to, which is hidden underneath the bogus bank website address.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Mass market provides potential for mobile banking

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 30 July 2010

Mobile banking offers a convenient way of transacting from anywhere at any time, and can be delivered at a lower cost to the bank. “But if a bank is not offering a good price, customers will move to one that is, especially at the lower end of the market,” Simon Russell, managing executive for financial services at Accenture South Africa.

He says one a major challenge for the larger banks is that, typically, 60% of their costs are in their branch and ATM networks, and their internet and mobile banking products have to be integrated with this complex infrastructure. But smaller banks are more agile and can use low cost mobile banking offerings to take business away from their bigger competitors and expand into other areas later.

In South Africa, there is the mass market at the one end, where customers would benefit from simple mobile banking transactions, and the more sophisticated customers at the other who view mobile banking as just another transaction channel, says Russell. The potential take-up of mobile banking is bigger among those that do not want to walk long distances to the the nearest bank, and do not have access to internet banking, he says.

“Those at the higher-end of the market have more choice.” A well thought out offering, a flawless launch and an innovative marketing approach are key to the success of a mobile banking product, says Russell.

He says the Spanish bank Bankinter is offering a service whereby when customers buy high value items in retail shops, such as a TV, and the retailer swipes their card they receive an SMS offering them a short term loan to finance it. If they accept, the money is then transferred from their account to the retailers account.

As a marketing ploy when launching the service the bank sent customers that had a positive balance in their account an SMS asking them what interest rate they would like for investing this money. “The bank agreed to some of the most outrageous responses and got amazing publicity from it at a low cost,” says Russell.

Bankinter has become a market leader in mobile banking in Spain by gathering data about customers and delivering products through the most appropriate channels. Mobile payments have been available for some time in South Africa, but customers are spoilt for choice due to the high penetration of branches and ATMS, says Russell.

“In SA there are 12 branches and 17.5 ATMs per 100,000 people compared to Nigeria, where there are below 5 branches and 5.2 ATMs per 100,000 people.” He says the future will see mobile electronic wallets on the phone that can have money loaded onto them that could be used to buy items from vending machines, pay for parking, and make person to person payments, without transacting online with the bank while making payment.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist. She also does media spokesperson training and article writing skills training.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Clear ground rules needed for telecoms progress in South Africa

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 29 July 2010

The progress of the upgrading of the telecommunications infrastructure in SA is being followed closely by international industry analysts. Will Hahn, principal researcher for communications service provider business strategy at Gartner says it is important to note the changes that have already happened in the market and their effects.

He says the international bandwidth reaching South Africa's shores in the form of undersea cables has increased dramatically since the beginning of 2009, and there are more of these to come. The direct results have been mainly seen in lower prices, increased bandwidth and the introduction of uncapped services, which are all good news for end-users.

Another important, indirect, aspect of change is that Seacom and other companies are allowing open access to their infrastructure, to a much wider set of customers. This is allowing service providers of all sizes to enter the market, because they can buy international capacity directly from Seacom, at prices that are openly advertised.

“Many authorities and market-watchers would define progress for South Africa largely by whether many of these potential new entrants actually enter the market and offer services,” says Hahn. The new open model is having a ripple effect on the market because the incumbents have had to respond by making their prices more transparent.

Previously, the incumbent operator did different deals with different customers, because there were no ground rules. Hahn says the increases in international bandwidth has been paralleled, though not matched, by substantial building of the national backbone infrastructure, with fiber rings and networks put in place or under construction by most of the major operators.

The hosting of the World Cup in this country was a vital spur to this increased capacity, and was a catalyst for the wave of lower prices and more flexible terms for broadband access, and it is clear that this progress will continue, says Hahn. However, if South Africans would like to see more than a handful of new entrants offering services, several things need to happen and the onus for this is mainly on the regulator.

“Highly visible talk about mobile interconnection rates is a perfect example of the cart before the horse in South Africa,” says Hahn. He believes the regulator is attempting to set a schedule for reductions in retail prices, but has not yet published any rigorous cost study that lays out the model to determine what the cost of providing service is.

These cost studies are extremely hard work, and it will take more than a magic wand to stop litigation threats by the major players to stop change from happening. The incumbents will always test and complain against regulatory announcements, because their shareholders will force them to do it, says Hahn.

But if there are no well defined cost of service models, such as those used in developed markets, then no precedent against future complaint will be established and each decision by the regulator will give rise to litigation from the operators. “Our understanding is that such studies are underway, but until they are published and hashed out, decisions about wholesale and retail interconnection rates cannot be considered permanent.”

Filling the phone-line gap

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 29 July

Telkom has an installed base of about 5-million residential copper telephone lines that can potentially support ADSL connectivity. But this represents a small portion of the population and not all these lines are of the quality required for ADSL, says Aingharan Kanagaratnam, head of network solutions at Ericsson.

“So there is a big gap that can be filled by mobile and wireless services.” He says there is currently a 110% penetration of cellular mobile connectivity with more mobile subscriptions than the total population, although this includes people with more than one connection.

“We estimate that 20% of mobile phones in the hands of users today are capable of mobile broadband.” This is an indication of the need to extend the reach of 3G broadband coverage across the country.

He says about one third of existing base stations currently have 3G capabilities, although the mobile operators are rolling out the service quickly. A limited factor the operators have to contend with is the lack of capacity on the transmission networks that link their base stations, for which they rely heavily on Telkom’s microwave infrastructure.

In two to three years time the operators will have their own microwave transmission networks and they have already started building these. It is too expensive to roll out fibre to every base station site, but when the national fibre infrastructure is more extensive it can be used to link some of them, says Kanagaratnam.

“Fibre will be confined to dense urban areas and long distance connectivity.” Improvement in the overall communication infrastructure will be gradual in line with the rollout of national, international and last mile infrastructure, says Kanagaratnam.

He says it will take two to three years for the various industry players to complete the roll-out of their national and metropolitan broadband fibre networks and for the multiple undersea cables to be completed to relieve the current overload of the infrastructure. The Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban national and metropolitan links are already progressing, but it will take longer to reach to urban areas, says Kanagaratnam.

He says it takes such a long time to roll out fibre infrastructure because of environmental and other issues that lengthen the process. Multiple parties are rolling out fibre infrastructure to get to achieve a competitive advantage.

But there is a lot of debate about the merits of sharing conduits in the ground, with each industry player laying its own fibre in these, instead of everyone digging up the roads. “Some 80% to 90% of time and cost is in this construction process,” he says.

Operators and municipalities are racing to get the metropolitan areas covered, because this is where the bulk of revenues can be generated. But the more players building overlapping infrastructure the more this will push up the price of connectivity to the end user.

Super mobile applications will alter the way users work and play

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 29 July 2010

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the biggest mobile event in the world, the spotlight was on mobile applications and online application stores as opposed to the usual announcements of new phone models. “This shows suppliers are focusing more on to the experience the phone brings and what users can do with it as opposed to the device itself,” says Deon Liebenberg, regional director for sub-Saharan Africa at BlackBerry smartphone maker Research In Motion in South Africa.

He says the latest buzz is about super applications that change the way users works and play, enhance their lifestyle and integrate with other applications on the phone to provide a seamless experience as users move from one application to another. Applications are now available that will tailor information to users’ needs, depending on criteria such as their location, availability status and how they want it to be presented.

If the user is travelling, they will change the time zone on the phone, check if flights are still on schedule and report any delays. “These applications will sit in the background and provide users with the appropriate information when they need it,” says Liebenberg.

Super applications constantly monitor users’ location, push concise information to them proactively when they need it based on their current situation, and allow them to request more detail if they need it. They run faster, are always on, and are reliable, even when the mobile networks are busy.

“It is all about just in time information,” says Liebenberg. He says applications have to be good to for users to continue to use them, and this is borne out by research that shows 99% of all applications downloaded are discarded or ignored after four weeks.

Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, says enlightened mobile users want to be able to download applications that enrich their lives and suit their specific needs and some developers are responding to this demand. For example, users of instant messaging application Mixit, which is cheaper than SMS and is geared to the younger generation, now offers information channels on topics such as drug rehabilitation, and even has a trading post feature for buying and selling items.

“What is happening with Mixit is an indication of the future of instant messaging applications that will kill SMS,” says Goldstuck. An increasing number of applications can now be downloaded to mobile phones that take users directly to their favourite websites, like Twitter, Facebook Mobile, and news services without having to waste time loading a browser first.

This makes it easier for users and they are less likely to move to another application that provides similar functionality. Many World Cup applications were also available for download during the event. “Specific applications like these far outpace browsing on the phone,” says Goldstuck.

He says those using social networks will be influenced by their peer groups when deciding what applications to download. Another trend is that companies are setting up specific mobile websites, including newspapers and magazines, which are now directing readers to their mobile sites in their publications.
“This will build a closer relationship between publications and mobile device users,” says Goldstuck. He says as smartphones become smarter more people will use them as a preferred internet device.

According to the World Wide Worx Mobile Internet in South Africa 2010 report, 60% of mobile users in urban areas have phones that are capable of browsing the internet, but only 21% of them actually do it. “The balance either don’t know how to use it or don’t want to do it, or don’t do it because of cost concerns, or perhaps because the screen is too small.”

TV and social media are set to merge

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 29 July 2010

Broadcast, IT and telecommunication are all moving to the same IP (Internet Protocol) based network delivery platform. This will pave the way for new services such as interactive TV whereby it will be possible for friends to chat on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter and discuss programmes on the same screen, while they are watching them.

“This is a merging of social media and TV,” says Ian James, programme director for ICT and telecommunications at Gordon Institute of Business Science. He says the converging of broadcasting and the internet will also allow targeted advertising.

For example, with interactive TV, when watching a programme viewers will be able to click on an outfit worn by one of the stars and a window will pop up with information about where it can be purchased. Another example of the bringing together of different mediums is that it is already possible to make free Skype phone calls over the internet from a mobile phone, says James..

The delivery of mobile TV is another area in which operators are dabbling, but it is difficult to envisage how revenues can be generated from this. In the traditional broadcasting world, subscribers pay a TV licence fee and revenues are generated through advertising.

But mobile operators are in the habit of charging per megabyte of data throughput, and are not geared up to handle advertising. “So there is a clash of business models,” says James.
An alternative is for mobile operators to charge a monthly subscription, but then they would have no control over how much content users are downloading, and the bandwidth-hoggers would clog up the networks.

This cannot happen with traditional TV, because it is broadcast on a one-to-many basis.
The operators are the weak link in the converged communication chain, because they are are focusing on being connectivity utilities instead of becoming content providers, says James.

He says people will pay more for content than bandwidth if it is of value to them.
The incumbent Japanese operator NTT Docomo proved this 10 years ago when it launched its iMode portal to deliver mobile content to its customers, and sold phone handsets to them that were capable of accessing the service.

“The cost of the content was added to customers’ phone bills and 91% of the revenues went to the content providers,” says James. Cellphone manufacturers have recently woken up to the potential of content delivery, an example being Apple, which was the first to set up an online application store.

The company encourages developers to develop mobile applications, checks the quality before making them available in its online App Store, and pays 70% of the revenues to the developers, says James. “Some developers think this should be higher, but payments to the credit card companies reduce Apple’s share to about 14%.”

James says it would be possible to deliver pay TV over mobile phones, but with the current mobile content delivery models this would not be viable for the operators because most of the money users pay goes to the content providers. Another challenge is that users are used to getting a lot of free internet content and services from the likes of Google and participating in free video conferencing using Skype.

The internet business model is to get millions of people to access the content or service and then find ways of generating income, for example by advertising to specific market segments. “Technology tools are available to mine this type of information, but telecommunications operators are not seeing this,” says James.

Monopolistic principles and poor service stiffle telecoms players

By Jennigay Coetzer - Business Day, 29 July 2010

Frustration abounds in the local telecommunications market about the lack of progress with bandwidth availability and costs. Service fees are perceived as inflated and the stability of the infrastructure is questionable.

The situation is expected to improve as more competitive entities build infrastructure in competition with the incumbents, but consensus is that the market still has far to go. “At the moment options are limited, so monopolistic principles prevail with poor service and high prices being the order of the day,” says Hannes van der Merwe, product manager for Mitel solutions at Itec Distribution.

He says telecommunications infrastructure providers such as Telkom and Neotel do not have the resilient telecommunication connectivity infrastructure required to support corporate PBX systems and are the weak link in the supply chain. While it takes just two to three weeks to order and install a PBX system, it takes Telkom two to three months to install the lines, he says.

Enterprise PBX systems are available that can deliver a unified communications platform that enables mobile users to be contactable at any time and any place and can be managed from anywhere in the world. “But of course you can only take advantage of all this functionality if the connectivity infrastructure is in place and performing at optimal levels,” says van der Merwe.

He says government needs to give the regulator the resources it needs to keep the incumbent telecommunication players in check. It should also reconsider its own investments in the telecommunications market, especially Telkom, since these represent a conflict of interest.

The incumbent operators also need to be more open to partnering with third-party service providers to plug the gaps in their own resources. Van de Merwe says Icasa needs to ensure that its regulations are legally watertight to prevent incumbents from delaying changes in the market by litigating against them.

Jonathan Maliepaard, MD of eNetworks says the biggest hurdle to progress is the cost of bandwidth from the likes of Telkom and Neotel, which is disproportionately high. “Local bandwidth now costs more than international bandwidth.” He says when the 5.6 gigabit West African Cable System (WACS) undersea cable lands in SA in 2012 the biggest problem will be affordable local bandwidth to access it.

“The cost of deploying long haul fibre is expensive, so the same old big companies are installing it and keeping prices high.” He says another issue is Telkom’s monopoly over the last mile, or local loop copper wire telephone lines that support ADSL.

Either the regulator Icasa needs to introduce local loop unbundling, which would allow other service providers to share this infrastructure or Telkom needs to provide ISPs with fast, scalable, affordable access to its ADSL network.

Gregory Massel, MD of Switch Telecom says while local ISPs have reduced ADSL costs significantly, Telkom’s access charges for this service are still higher than in many comparable countries. “More significantly, users are still forced to pay R174 a month for the rental of a Telkom phone line before obtaining the ADSL access,” he says.

Another issue is that the local ADSL speeds are limited to a maximum of 4 megabits per second (Mbps) compared to up to 24 Mbps available in most other countries, says Massel. He says due to the lack of fast affordable fixed line access, 50% of broadband connections in this country are wireless compared to most other parts of the world where more than 90% are fixed.

Fixed broadband is generally much better suited to the delivery of VoIP-based telephony services, video conferencing and other high-end multi-media services, as the bandwidth is more consistent. Another hinderance in the local market is the lack of consumer awareness of the alternatives that are available, says Massel.

“Most consumers still do not realise that there are much better cheaper options for their internet, telephone and switchboard services than Telkom’s services.” He says Telkom still has over 98% of the non-mobile voice market, despite the alternative services offered by the likes of Switch Telecom, Vox Telecom, ECN and Neotel.

Reshaad Sha, director of strategy for internet business solutions at Cisco says the landing of the Seacom undersea cable and the upgrades to the existing SAT-3 undersea cable have had a positive impact on the price of international bandwidth. “To some extent one component of the larger problem was solved,” he says.

But the challenge still remains for the local telecommunication operators is the building of fibre infrastructure to provide users throughout the country with access to all this international bandwidth. He says the demand for services and applications to be delivered over the internet is expected to reach 150 petabytes per month by 2014 in SA.

“The pace of the build out of access networks to cater for this demand does not seem to be sufficiently hasty to meet this projected demand,” says Sha. Martin Lotz, CEO of Jasco Electronics Holdings says the huge quantities of broadband capacity that will be provided through the new undersea cables will support data and video services.

But to access these cables will require terrestrial fibre networks to be expanded and more mobile base stations to be erected. “To do this we will have to overcome the challenges posed by environmental regulations and council approvals,” says Lotz.

These constraints will lead to the sharing of current and new infrastructure by multiple operators. The regulator can assist progress in this market through further liberalisation, such as number portability and setting reasonable cost structures as is happening with interconnect fees.
But the best driver for better services and lower cost will be competition, says Lotz.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Free ebook guide to writing press releases

A free ebook version of A Perfect Press Release - or Not?, a guide to writing press releases, can now be downloaded from my website The book will help anyone involved in producing press releases and other types of articles for publication in the media or on a website to ensure they are written and constructed properly and contain content that is meaningful to the reader.

This includes small businesses that cannot justify hiring a PR consultant, but still need to send out press releases. Hard hitting views from journalists and editors who face a daily barrage of press releases are included in the book, which also contains tips for spokespeople that need to be quoted in these articles.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

New articles with writing and media spokesperson tips

I have posted some new articles on my website that contain useful article writing tips and media spokesperson tips. Here below are the titles of the articles, together with brief details of what they are about:

Media training - good listening skills are vital: Spokespeople who don’t listen properly are often so preoccupied with what they want to say next that they misunderstand the questions they are being asked and preempt what the journalist was going to say. This is irritating for the journalist and can railroad the interview. This article contains tips on why this happens and how to overcome it.

Writing tips - criteria for testing press releases: Before sending out press releases, read them objectively word for word through the eyes of those you are hoping will read them. Ask “So what?” after each sentence and make sure this question is answered from the readers point of view. Then test the content against the criteria provided in this article, which also gives tips on why press releases fail.

Article writing tips - Strategy and objectives: Every press release should have an objective behind it that is in line with the business strategy, regardless of whether it is going to be distributed to the media or posted on a website. It is no good just sitting down and saying: “We need to send out a press release, so what shall we write about today?”

Press release marketing hype and gobbledygook: Companies produce press releases to get their messages across and promote their brand to a target audience. But if the audience has to wade through screeds of marketing speak before they find any useful information, they will give up and move on. Plus, if every press release contains the same jargon, where is the differentiation? Read this article to find out where companies go wrong.

More article writing tips and media spokesperson tips are available on my website:, plus details of the writing workshops and media training I provide. My book, A Perfect Press Release - or Not?, a guide to producing press releases is also available on my website. An ebook version of this book can be downloaded FREE.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Why media training is important

I have posted a new article on my website titled: Why media training is important

What it’s about: Those who expose themselves to interacting with the media without first acquiring the skills to do it properly are putting themselves and their companies at risk in a number of ways. Good spokespeople are the first to ensure they continually hone their media interaction skills, while those who think they don’t need media training are often those who are the worst at being interviewed because their egos get in the way.

Click here to view the full article: Why media training is important

This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Media Spokesperson’s Handbook, which is expected to be published shortly. I will be posting more excerpts from this book over the next few weeks. A number of other media training articles can be viewed on my website:

My first book, A Perfect Press Release - or Not?, a guideline to writing press releases is also available from my website: Details of the media training workshop and coaching sessions and writing skills workshops I run can also be found on my website.

Article writing tips - Rich content is vital

I have just posted a new writing tips article on my website titled: Article writing tips - Rich content is vital

What it’s about: One of the most important aspects of writing a good press release or any other article is to first gather rich content that will interest the target audience. Another is to write the article with the most important information upfront, following through with an information flow that answers all the questions that are likely to be in the readers’ minds as they go through it and there are ways of achieving this.

Click here to view the full article: Article writing tips - Rich content is vital.

More detailed article writing tips and media spokesperson tips can be found on my website:, which also contains details of the writing workshops and media workshops I run. My book, A Perfect Press Release - or Not?, a guide to writing press releases, is also available from my website.

I will be posting more writing tips articles on my website over the coming weeks, including excerpts from my book.

Media training - Assumption is dangerous

I have just posted a new article on my website titled: Media training - Assumption is dangerous

What it’s about: Most people are guilty of making assumptions when they are imparting information to others, and this can be dangerous when interacting with the media. Assumptions are confusing, misleading and in a media interview can result in the journalist drawing his or her own conclusions or speculating to fill in the missing information.

Click here to view the full article: Media training - Assumption is dangerous

This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Media Spokesperson’s Handbook, which is expected to be published shortly. I will be posting more excerpts between now and then. Other media training-related articles can be viewed on my website:

Details of my first book, A Perfect Press Release - or Not?, a guideline to writing press releases are available on my website: Details of the media training and article writing skills training I provide are also available on my website.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Briefing spokespeople for media interviews

Spokespeople should be properly briefed before being interviewed by a journalist or any other media interviewer. The better the brief, the better equipped they will be to prepare for the interview. A good brief will give them more confidence and allow them to anticipate questions that are likely to come up.

Going in blind will put the spokesperson in a vulnerable position and experienced journalists could use this to their advantage. It could also damage the spokesperson’s credibility and put his or her company at risk.

A written brief in time to prepare

A simple written brief with bullet points will suffice, and the spokesperson should receive this in plenty of time to prepare for the interview. A proper briefing should be a prerequisite for all types of interviews, including situations where spokespeople are interviewed by the company’s PR consultant or a hired journalist for writing a press release.

The brief should include basic information such as:

The purpose of the interview.
Whether it is face-to-face or on the phone.
The topic to be discussed.
A few discussion points around the topic.
A two-sentence CV of the media interviewer.
The name of the publication or radio or TV station.
The type of article or programme.
Whether the interview is face-to-face or on the phone.
The venue, address and directions if applicable.
The time allotted for the interview.

Handling sensitive issues

The spokesperson should also be aware of any sensitive company issues that might come up during the interview, such as a pending deal, merger or acquisition, an ongoing court case, market rumours or an old skeleton in the company’s cupboard. Journalists have been known to have hidden agendas when they request interviews on a seemingly benign topic.

The brief should specify how to handle with these questions if they come up, for example with a statement like, “I am afraid our corporate policy dictates that only our CEO can discuss that,” or “That question would need to be directed to our media communications people.”

If a formal interview has been arranged by the company’s internal media liaison or communications department or by an external PR company, the person who set it up should give the spokesperson a written brief outlining the interviewer’s expectations.

Similarly, if interviews have been requested by a number of journalists, for example as a result of a news leak or market rumours, it is even more important for the spokesperson to be briefed on the situation, the type of questions that are likely to come up and how to handle them. Spokespeople should be briefed on a similar basis when preparing to address a press conference or when making a presentation to any audience that might include journalists.

Unexpected phone calls

Even when spokespeople receive an unexpected direct phone call from a journalist or radio interviewer looking for comment it will pay them to obtain a brief on the spot by establishing a few things before responding. For example, by saying something like, “So that I can give you the best value here, could you tell me which publication this is for and what type of article you are writing.”

Depending on the circumstances, it might also be useful to establish whether the journalist has spoken to or is intending to speak to anyone else on the topic. Asking questions like these will give the spokesperson time to collect his or her thoughts and respond more confidently to questions.

In addition, knowing how long the interview is likely to be, will help the spokesperson to prioritise the information he or she is imparting and be even more concise if it is a short interview.

No excuse for not being briefed

During the media training workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions I run, spokespeople often complain that they are never briefed properly for an interview. My answer to this is that if they should insist on a brief or draw one up themselves, because if they don’t do this they could jeopardise their progress with becoming a sort-after spokesperson.

CEOs and directors of small businesses that don’t have their own marketing departments or external PR companies will need to brief themselves for media interviews. In my experience, many spokespeople in this category are a lot better at this than some of those who come from bigger companies and have a marketing and PR department to support them.

Having lunch with a journalist?

Spokespeople should also be briefed when they are meeting a journalist for lunch who they have not been exposed to before. During a recent one-on-one media training session the spokesperson told me his marketing people had organised a lunch with a journalist the following day.

I asked him the purpose of the lunch and he said he had not been told, and did not know anything about the journalist or the publication. He had just been told to pitch up at the restaurant. When I asked him how he felt about this, he said he was quite nervous because he didn’t know what to expect or what the journalist expected from him.

I suggested he, his company and the journalist might achieve more out of the lunch date if he asked the person who had set up the meeting for a brief. I also suggested that if he found out more about the journalist’s publication and the topics he or she writes about beforehand, he could break the ice by showing an interest in this.

From the feedback he gave me afterwards, this tactic worked wonders, the lunch went really well and it led to a subsequent interview.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist with 25 years experience. She has run more than 150 media training workshops and writing skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. She can be contacted on +27-(0)83-212-5754 or at: Her website address is:

Tiips on Media interview techniques

When being interviewed by journalists and other members of the media a good spokesperson will interact in conversational layman’s terms, listen carefully and respond directly to questions without preamble, and will not preempt the journalist’s questions.

Media training, will help spokespeople to acquire and hone the techniques that will enable them to give and get the best value in media interviews, but here are some tips to be getting on with.

Whether being interviewed by a journalist from a print publication or on radio or TV, imagine you are speaking directly to the audience. Don’t leave it to the journalist to interpret what you are saying.

This could be dangerous, especially if you don’t get the opportunity to check the article before publication. Speak clearly and deliberately slow down your pace, especially if you are a fast talker.

When interacting with print journalists don’t jump in to fill the silence gaps – they need to assimilate the information you are imparting, discard what is not useful, and take notes.
Similarly, radio listeners and TV viewers will need to be able to absorb the information being imparted, and it is difficult to do this if the spokesperson is speaking too quickly.

Portray confidence, but don’t be arrogant and don’t assume the audience has prior knowledge of the topic you are discussing. Avoid marketing speak, industry jargon, unexplained acronyms and over-descriptive words like UNIQUE.

Don’t keep punting your company’s name, and know how much time has been allotted for the interview. Don’t waffle! Those who lack content waffle - lots of words about nothing, which could result in a fragmented article.

If the media interviewer is knowledgeable about the topic being discussed, give him or her credit for this, acknowledge their comments and take the opportunity to share knowledge and ideas with them.

A knowledgeable journalist, will want to control the interview. So it is no good trying to download a pre-structured format of what you want to tell them, as if you were giving a presentation.

Those that do this run the risk of railroading their interview and could end up talking on parallel lines with the journalist - i.e. each having their own, different conversation. So go with the flow and watch out for opportunities to slip in your messages - without going into sales mode.

If the journalist is inexperienced, adopt the role of mentor and take this opportunity to educate them on the topic, without being superior or condescending. If you do this, the trainee could become a valuable media ally as he or she becomes more experienced and moves from one publication to another, as tends to happen.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist with 25 years experience. She has run more than 150 media training workshops and writing skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. She can be contacted on +27-(0)83-212-5754 or at: Her website address is:

Spokesperson tips - understanding Agendas

Companies appoint spokespeople to interact with the media to build brand awareness and image, get their marketing messages across, keep the market up to date with what they are doing and how successful they are, attract new business, and encouraging customers to buy more of their products and services.

But journalists and other media interviewers have a different agenda. They are looking for information that will interest and enlighten their readers, listeners or viewers, keep them up to date with the latest news and trends and keep them coming back for more.

It is important for company spokespeople to understand these conflicting agendas, and media training will help them to do this.

Journalists are not interested in how much money your company is making or how good its products and services are, except when this information is of interest to their audience - for example when they are reporting on a listed company’s results or a new company listing.

They know their readers are looking for information that will keep them up to date with what is going on locally and globally that could affect their lifestyle or business interests, the economy, the political environment or the markets in which they operate.

Spokespeople therefore need to understand and identify with what the audience would be interested in hearing as opposed to focusing solely on what they want to tell them, when preparing for a media interview.

In essence, the media interviewer is a conduit between the spokesperson and the audience. So during an interview the spokesperson needs to imagine he or she is speaking directly to the lowest common denominator of the audience.

For example, I have a technology background, but I write articles about IT and telecommunication for a business audience. The spokespeople I interact with therefore need to speak in layman’s terms. It is not up to me to interpret their industry jargon and gobbledegook into the language my readers will understand.

When I write articles, I am looking for interesting views from spokespeople who are prepared to share knowledge and ideas that will enlighten my readers and enable them to use the information to make better decisions.

Even when discussing a new concept, product or service, readers, listeners and viewers will want answers to questions such as who it is targeted at, how it will benefit them, how it works, where it can be obtained and when? How it fits into the bigger picture of the market, whether this marks a trend, and so on. In other words, what’s in it for them to absorb this information?

This will require getting onto the audience’s wavelength as opposed to expecting them to get onto yours, which many spokespeople make the mistake of doing.

Jennigay Coetzer is a business and technology journalist with 25 years experience. She has run more than 150 media training workshops and writing skills workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. She can be contacted on +27-(0)83-212-5754 or at:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How to be a good media spokesperson

In 25 years as a journalist I have interviewed many hundreds of spokespeople and less than 10% were able to speak authoritatively on the topic being discussed. Many spokespeople are too wrapped up in their company, products and services and their marketing messages with little thought as to what the audience might be interested in hearing about.

In many cases they have a superficial view of bigger picture trends around the topics they are discussing and merely regurgitate what has already been said or written by others instead of digging deeper into the whys and wherefores to get a broader perspective. These individuals are typically intent on downloading their views on the journalist instead of sharing their knowledge in a two way discussion.

Good spokespeople explore trends

Sort-after media spokespeople are those who keep up to date with what is going on locally and globally in the markets in which they operate. They are knowledge seekers and explore the trends and topics on which they wish to be interviewed in the media. Skilled media spokespeople also have a high-level understanding of the economic and regulatory issues that could influence trends in their markets and how these relate to the topics on which they wish to be interviewed.

These individuals are constantly on the alert for new market developments and trends to add to their knowledge base. They hone their interview skills by attending media spokesperson training workshops or one-on-one coaching sessions. Good media spokespeople work hard to build relationships with specific journalists, they ensure they have been briefed about the expectations of the media interviewer and they spend time preparing for the interview.

Journalists and other media interviewers will be keen to enter into discussion with these individuals and will value their views. No wonder you see the same people quoted time after time in the media. With the right training, media spokespeople can have a big voice in the media, regardless of the size of company they work for.

Ego driven know-it-alls operate in a vacuum

Mediocre spokespeople are often those with big egos who think they know it all. Sometimes these individuals are subject specialists and line managers of large organisations, who appear to operate in a vacuum and their knowledge is confined to the narrow boundaries of their own divisions, products, services and day to day jobs.

In some cases these people don’t even have a high-level view of how their own company operates as a whole or its overall business objectives. Media training will equip spokespeople at all levels to give better value in an interview as opposed to flying by the seat of their pants. A bad interview will invariably lead to a disjointed article that does neither the spokesperson nor the company any favours, or will portray them badly to a radio or TV audience.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Creating an effective media policy

Interacting with the media is always a case of risk versus reward. Companies should therefore have a dynamic media policy that is aligned with its business objectives, sets out who should say what to the media and is continually updated.

Managing risk areas

When dealing with the media, risk areas include situations such as spokesperson’s comments being taken out of context, factual errors in published articles, negative speculation after a “no comment” statement or a spokesperson not being available for comment. Another risk area is journalists asking spokespeople to comment about recent market speculation or press articles about the company or a competitor.

An effective media policy should anticipate risk areas such as these and include a strategy that will equip anyone dealing with the media to handle these types of situations. This will mean getting input from all those involved to ensure their requirements are covered.

To safeguard the company to the greatest extent, a media policy should be applied at all levels of the business from top management down to the people on the switchboard and not just stuck away in an archive in the hopes that someone will refer to it.

The guidelines in the media policy should be clearly stated and enforced to ensure journalists are treated appropriately if they phone in and prevent employees from inadvertently giving away information to them. Some journalists use social engineering tactics like befriending receptionists, switchboard operators and other operational level employees to part with information.

A behavioural blueprint for spokespeople

Depending on the content of the media policy, it can provide a behavioural blueprint to ensure spokespeople are broadcasting consistent messages and do not cross certain boundaries. It will also safeguard against a spokesperson operating in one division inadvertently making controversial comments about the biggest customer or potential customer of another division.

For example, a spokesperson makes a negative statement about government to a journalist and meanwhile another division has a major government tender pending. Without strict guidelines spokespeople can also be guilty of voicing personal opinions to journalists, which are totally out of line with the company’s views.

A well thought out media policy will give spokespeople more confidence in knowing what they can and cannot say. It will also allow them to refer to corporate policy to avoid answering controversial questions without alienating the journalist.

For example: “I would love to talk to you about that Bill, but it is corporate policy not to disclose that type of information,” or “I am afraid our corporate policy dictates that our CEO is the only one permitted to speak on that subject.”

Making statements like these is better than saying “no comment”, which is like slamming the door in the journalist’s face, and it moves the responsibility to a corporate level without jeopardising the spokesperson’s relationship with the journalist.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tips on self-publishing a book

When I wrote my first book A Perfect Press Release – or Not? I was faced with decisions about editing, publishing, distributing and publicising it. This was a wake-up call for me because as a journalist I was used to writing articles, handing them over to the editor at the newspaper and moving on to the next assignment.

So, how to get a book published?

The traditional approach

I spoke to a couple of people at reputable publishing houses, who showed interest in the book and told me how the process would work. It seemed I would hand over the manuscript and they would then be responsible for the entire process from editing to production, printing, distributing and publicising the book - at their expense.

But, this process would take about nine months – from when the book was accepted - and it meant relinquishing control over how the book turned out – including the cover design, which, being a control freak, did not suit me at all. Plus, an author friend of mine said the publisher takes most of the profits.

I had also recently received a book to review that had been published by a well know publishing house. It was so badly put together, that the lines of print were sloping upwards, the print was small and densely crammed onto the pages and the cover had started peeling off before I had read it.

Exploring alternatives

So I did some research on self-publishing and spoke to a local consultant who specialises in this area. One of the most valuable things she told me was: “If you know there is a market for your book, you should self-publish it.” She then told me she would handle the production process, including the printing, and would charge me R150 a copy.

As this was a 107 page book that needed to be affordable to as many people as possible and I was planning on making a profit myself, this did not appeal to me. Plus I would still have to handle the distribution and marketing of the book myself, at additional cost.

I paid the consultant for her time and walked away with some good tips about what can go wrong during the production process. Confident that there was a market for my book and having looked at my finances I decided to tackle the publishing process myself.

The self-publishing process

The first step was to get an ISBN number for the book from the National Library, where I found a really helpful lady, Margaret Kabido, who issued me with this on the spot. I then approached my old Business Day surveys editor Gordon Amos, who is now a freelancer, to handle the editing of the book because I knew he would suggest improvements instead of being prescriptive and was always open to debate.

A marketing strategist friend then introduced me to the idDigital design and DTP studio, which had previous experience with books and its prices were reasonable. She also introduced me to her printer consultant Mike Eiserman of Taringa Press, who finds the best printer to do the job at the best price without costing you any more and manages the process – what a win!

For 1000 copies of the book it cost me less than R30 a copy (ex VAT), bearing in mind that half the quantity would have cost almost double that price per copy, and the more copies printed in a run the cheaper it gets. My total set up cost was about R50,000, including the printing of the first batch of 1000 books.

Potential production pitfalls

During the editing process, formatting problems can occur when the author is using a different version of a word processing application to the editor. So it is best to create the copy in plain text. Formatting problems can also happen during production, and the content needs to be checked each time the DTP studio produces another proof to ensure no gremlins have crept in – like missing copy, pages or page numbers. I must have checked the content of A Perfect Press Release – or Not? 20 times or more.

Then when the PDF file of the book goes to the printer, proofs have to be checked again.

Being a bit of a control freak, I insisted on checking a proof after the final print run of the 1000 books, but before they went for binding. It is a good job I did, because the first few pages were fine, but the ink became fainter and fainter with every page after that.

On investigation, it appeared someone had forgotten to top up the ink before the run and the printer had to do the print run again at its own expense – all organised by the print consultant. If I had signed off the previous proof, I would have footed the bill for this.

The fact that the cover design and the DTP was done by the same team turned out to be a major win because, as I had been warned by the self-publishing consultant, the fitting of the content into the cover is one of the areas that is prone to error.

Another potential pitfall is not to forget to get the design studio to produce a barcode containing the ISBN number of the book, which needs to be included on the back cover for the bookstores to scan when they sell the book.


I initially decided to sell the book off my website and only later get it into the shops.

So I set up a website, applied for an online merchants account with Standard Bank and set up a payment gateway through MWEB SafeShop, with an automated link to the Internet Express courier service. But I discovered that many people don’t like to pay online with a credit card and kept getting requests to pay by electronic transfer, which could not be handled by the payment gateway, and others wanted to collect the book and pay cash.

Getting the book into the shops was the only answer, although easier said than done.

With Exclusive Books, each store makes its own decisions about which books to order and the managers don’t like talking directly to authors, as I soon found out. So I spoke to someone in the distribution department at Exclusive head office, who told me I needed a distributor and sent me a list of names.

I approached the one that had the best website, PSD Promotions, which turned out to be a good choice because A Perfect Press Release – or Not? is now available in about 40 bookstores around the country. PSD carries stock, takes 60% of the selling price of the book, which includes the bookstores’ mark up and delivery to the stores.

The distributor also put me onto a good book publicist, Helen Holyoake of Helco Promotions, who sent out a press release offering review copies of the book to selected publications, radio stations and TV programmes and arranged several interviews for me. This cost me about R8,000.

I also recently discovered that Exclusive Books is willing to do an e-mailing to a target sample of its Fanatics club members to promote book titles, at a cost of R2,600 and am now pursuing this.

Useful contacts mentioned above:

Helen Holyoake-Helco Promotions: +27-11-4622302
Gordon Amos:
Mike Eiserman – Taringa Press: 083-602-0987

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Press Release Writing Tips

Excerpts from A Perfect Press Release – or Not? by Jennigay Coetzer

Press releases have long been seen as an effective, inexpensive way of letting the media, customers, potential customers and the market at large know that a company exists, and promote its products and services. But in 95% of cases the information in press releases is incomplete, confusing or buried in marketing hype and jargon and the press release ends up in the editors bin.

Sending out press releases that trumpet a company’s achievements instead of focusing on what will interest the target audience could ruin its reputation with the media. Similarly, companies could expose themselves to ridicule by posting jargon-filled press releases directly on their websites.

With no impartial editor to trim out all the guff, this might seem like an opportunity for companies to say what they like to a broad audience. But it will irritate and frustrate those who are trying to find meaningful information on the website, including existing and potential customers, if they have to wade through a load of waffle to get to it. In addition, an increasing number of journalists and editors are using the internet to source information.

Have a strategy for every press release you send to the media or publish on the internet.

Instead of writing the story around the marketing jargon, write the story and then add the jargon afterwards – or as a marketing strategist friend of mine says: “Put the lipstick on the pig.”

Before producing a press release ask yourself:

  • Is this a good story - or is it just puff?
  • Is the content relevant?
  • Will it grab and keep the attention of the reader?
  • Is the article properly constructed?
  • Does the story flow?
  • Does it make sense?
  • Are all the facts there?

Reasons press releases fail:

  • Company puffery and posturing
  • Self-gratification.
  • Lack of useful information.
  • Not enough value for the reader.
  • Lack of focus.
  • Too many ideas or views in the story.
  • Disjointed or fragmented information.
  • Waffle.

Writing tips and tricks

  • Don’t get hung up on the intro.
  • Find a hook to hang the story on.
  • You can always go back and change it later.
  • Write as if you were having a conversation with the readers.
  • Don’t leave questions in the readers’ mind.
  • Don’t assume any prior knowledge.
  • Finish each point before moving on
  • Keep each sentence short – 35 words max.
  • Make direct quotes in quotation marks short and snappy.
  • Write and rewrite the article to achieve perfection.
  • When reading it through, say “So What?” after every sentence.