How to generate interest in shipping? Stop talking about shipping!
By Ryan Skinner (email)
"Wait a sec, hasn't this been done before, I mean, again and again?"
He says they're using twitter this time, and social networking, and other Silicon Valley-smelling gizmos.
I spouted something on the spot that I hoped wouldn't seem too stupid in Lloyd's List, then spent the rest of the day returning to the topic.
My main message for Eason: You need to take your audience into account. That's alpha and omega in the communications and PR business. A non-shipping audience doesn't care about ships or shipping. Why should they?
Eason more or less concurred: Shipping will say that the industry moves 15,000 pairs of sneakers across the world every day. Who cares? Exactly.
I may be interested to know exactly how the sneakers I bought yesterday came to arrive at the store. I may be interested to hear how the two engines of globalization - the immaterial, Internet-driven transactional economy and the material web of product movements - interrelate. I'm probably at least fleetingly interested in world trade, emerging market economies, supply chains or the like.
What about the shipping industry's particular expertise dealing in an environment of multiple, conflicting jurisdictions? Political risk? Adapting to operational requirements from countless regulatory bodies, acting only half-concertedly?
Give me that. Just don't give me the amount of coal that moves over deep seas daily, or the number of nationalities working on big boats.
This maritime foundation better decide right away who the real audience is. So many of these efforts fail because the internal audience trumps the actual audience. In other words, people working for the foundation spend their time writing for the near audience of internal stakeholders (effectively, the big shipowners backing it), as opposed to the far audience - the public.
Before you scoff at their near-sightedness, know that this failure to target is widespread in business. In how many companies are the communicators working to stroke the egos of top management, as opposed to doing the real job, the harder job: Communicating to a world of strangers whose love isn't measured in your next pay-check but in political and business decisions years from now?
My advice for anyone endorsing shipping: Keep your eye on the real audience. Forget about ships. Focus on social utility. The sea isn't shipping's stomping ground.
[While I'm on the topic of shipping PR faux pas, I pass along an article I was sent by Ben Strong of AMVER. Articles like this, and the actions that result in them, do nothing to dispel shipping's reputation as an industry of shady practices and chummy, good ole boy relationships. Slimeballs.]