Fundamental purpose

“You hang on to the idea of who you are as a company, and you focus not on what you do but on what you could do. By being really clear about what you stand for and why you exist, you can see what you could do with a much more open mind. You enhance your ability to adapt to change.”
(Collins 1997)

True that.

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Next move in the social business game?

Last night I attended a panel event on the use of social tools in the workplace organised by head of digital and social for Fishburn Hegdes (@fishburnhedges) (and fellow Gooner) Chris Reed (@chris_reed) . The panel consisted of Andrew Grill (@andrewGrill) partner at IBM Interactive and renowned social business thought-leader, Miguel Garcia (@MiguelAngelo) Customer Success Manager for Yammer in London, Ben Matthews (@Benmatthe) Head of strategic communications for eBay in Europe) and Jacobina Plummer (@jacobinaplummer) Global Change & Communications Manager, Agile Working for Unilever.

With the debate on the terminology around what social business is and if it means anything at all to the all important C-Suite, it was really interesting getting the views, real use cases and personal anecdotes of the panel session.

Key takeaways for me:

  • In a global organisation with thousands of staff, the use of an internal social network is essentially a ‘can’t live without’ particularly in the modern age of distributed work forces
  • The use (or in some cases misuse) of social tools with any organisation relies on those at the very top setting an example
  • What qualifies as success differs from organisation to organisation as expectations are very different (obvious but worth stressing)
  • Social networks within the firewall should not replace the role of line managers to instilling a sense of purpose for employees but instead serve to augment the organisational culture.
  • Agencies and consultancies (thankfully) have a role to play in helping organisations implement best in class practices but need to be able to demonstrate they can ‘walk the walk’ and not just ‘talk the talk’

As organisations  continually look to transform themselves in digital age, I suspect we will see these discussions ramp up further on this side of the pond over the next 2 to 3 years. Interesting times as they say.

Resetting the ‘PR’ button?

I’m not sure if it’s a good or bad sign but the conversation on the future of the PR industry seems to have kicked up a notch in the last few months. The PRCA in collaboration with Ketchum have been leading the debate/discussion on this.

This is a debate that’s always been around but appears to have more people soul searching than I can remember.

As the whole ‘social media thing’ seems to be entering into the trough of disillusionment, PR firms and practitioners are starting to wonder what value they truly offer clients and organisations. It appears the PR industry is going through a trough of disillusionment.

Something I haven’t seen by way of debate from the PRCA though (which given what the acronym stands for, we should) is the notion of ‘consultancy’ versus ‘agency’ thinking. This is an area I’ve been fascinated with for a while now in particular as the consultancy industry as we know is going through a shake up of its own.

For too long those working in PR have adopted an agency mentality – we’ll do what you want for a retained fee and provide you with the results on a regular basis. The main reason you hire us is because you probably don’t have the time or resource to do it yourself. 

PR, sadly, in most circles has become synonymous with media coverage and relationship building with stakeholders of varying degrees. Agencies are relied upon to ‘oil the wheels of this process’. There are obviously exceptions but in the main this is how things play out. And it works. In fact, it still works for many.

Then however there’s the consulting approach. This is more about businesses having a problem they don’t know how to solve. In most cases it’s not about throwing bodies at a problem. An organisation has already thought through a problem and are stumped. So they’ll call in consultants to help work through how to solve this. Typically this function fell to management consultants who employed very smart people to come up with solutions to specific problems. Again that works. And still works for many.

But the landscape of online behaviour is changing things. Running businesses where the expectations of customers, potential customers, employees, shareholders and competitors are changing by the minute means for those in PR specific functions, areas that might have required an ‘agency’ offering means they now need a ‘consultancy’ solution.

It’s only a subtle difference. But a difference none the less. Setting the expectation and delivering on it are real business issues now because the expectation being set externally by industry-agonistic leaders who’s work is viewed in public forums.

In essence, the communications function is now inadvertently more strategic and thought through than ever before. Governments and public bodies have long realised this. Social networking software has pretty much forced businesses to catch up.

So what does that mean for the the PR industry?

In my view, if you’re in the strategic space you need to follow the consulting methodology. In all likelihood this means project work, developing analytically derived insights,  outcomes based results and pretty much staking your reputation on your recommendations.

As ever, all views and counter points welcome.

Sorting out your reality problem – the crux of social business

Every now and again you come across a piece of writing that hits the nail squarely on the head. An article that resonates so strongly with you that you find yourself nodding furiously in agreement as you read it.

This is one such article. Alistair Campbell who most will know from New Labour has written a brilliant piece on why the world of PR is changing – It’s a must read piece for anyone working in the practice of communications.

There are a couple of key points that stand out for me but the one that really struck a chord was this:

I get calls from people out of the blue – again the new world. I am on Facebook, Twitter and people can email me direct on my website. Helps me cut out middle men and agents and get better deals for what I do. Makes people feel you are accessible – which I am. But when a government or company or a big brand comes on, I always assume two things – they have a problem, and they think it is about the communications. They think they need a spin doctor.

So I go and see them and the first thing I do is say who are your key people, and I ask to see them too, at the same time. And I get out some plain white postcards.

And on each one is written the words ‘The main objective of our organization is…’ and I ask them to end that sentence. Then I ask them to turn over the postcard, and it says ‘The strategy to meet our objective is…’ and I ask them to fill that out too. Then I gather them in. And nine times out of 10, I gather in a stack of different objectives, strategies which are tactics, or strategies which are objectives, and I say to them… you don’t have a spin problem, you have a reality problem. And I say if you are not aligned on strategy, you the key people running the show, why should the public be expected to know and hear what you are trying to say or sell to them, and why should the media not take every chance it can get to make your life more difficult, pore over your errors, ignore your successes?

So good public affairs is not about spin; it is about strategy, and reputation.

Spot on.

However, how does a PR manager or agency partner even begin to address this? As Campbell rightly points out the role of communications within many organisations is treated as a luxury. Very few in the industry are able to command the level of trust and respect required to get senior executives to ‘align on strategy’. I daresay you need to be an old, white man with grey hair which knocks out a lot of those currently working in the profession.

There are ways and means though. And I believe this is where the notion of social business can really come into it’s own (and by social business I mean something akin to this definition).

One of the best ways of helping a company sort out its reality problem is to objectively show it what its community thinks of it (and by that I don’t mean Facebook fans. I mean customers, employees, partners, suppliers, shareholders, competitors and pretty much anyone with someone to gain or lose by that company).

Knowing what your stakeholders think of you has always been good business. The beauty of the technological world we live in means we now have the tools to cost effectively capture that intelligence and then analyse it and work it into a strategic approach (and no I’m not just talking about social listening. I mean in-depth community analysis both inside and outside an organisation).

Taking this one step further, those in PR/comms advisory roles should add running strategic workshops to their offerings as well as tactical creative implementations (I highly recommend this book called Gamestorming as a good place to start). Then they need to start speaking the language of business (ie how can I help you make money or how can I help you save money).

I’ve long believed the world of PR goes further than press, media and spin. It’s good to read the alleged king of spin echo that sentiment.

The times they are a-changin’

Observing the way people communicate has always fascinated me. The process by which organisations, companies and the people who make decisions within them take their ideas and explain them to others is what prompted me to enter a career of PR rather than one of engineering.

I’ve had the privilege of being at the forefront of the evolution of the change that has gone on within the PR sector. Social media has forced organisations to re-evaluate how they communicate with those they seek to influence.

In the same way the industry has grown up, so have I. Using the power of communication to help organisations achieve their goals has always been professional mission statement. The tsunami that is social media allowed me to flex my communication skills in ways I never could pre the ‘twitter days’.

It’s time now to take what has always been my strength to the next level. We are now in a world where actions and conversations taken on social networks have the potential for real implications for the way a business operates. Social business is the ‘cool’ trend but in reality we’re witnessing the genesis of the way businesses will look like in the future. For me the challenge of helping businesses both big and small through this metamorphosis is genuinely exciting. Looking at how organisations such as IBM (who I’ve been fortunate to work with) have truly taken a social approach to they work them operate, I believe it won’t be long before other companies start to truly appreciate what it means to ‘be social’.

So with this in mind I’ve joined the Dachis Group (who I’ve admired for some time now) where I’ll be focused on helping brands fully exploit the power of adopting a social approach both to an internal workforce and external customers.

Interesting times lie ahead.

Creativity + content + speed = future of comms

It’s fascinating observing the way the comms industry is changing. I got into PR by accident. Then into ‘social media’ because of morbid curiosity about the way the industry was changing. All this time, I’ve been watching an industry being shaken to the core by its players, funders, detractors and stakeholders alike. It’s scary but good.

Then just when you thought you’d figured it all out, it changes again. (The debate as to whether social media has any relevance within a corporate armoury is largely done. If you don’t think it does, I’m sorry I can’t help you). Now we’re on to the debate about content marketing, brand journalism and transmedia storytelling.

We’ve moved past the why to the what. And in all honesty that’s the hard part. Using a crude analogy. It’s like you’re at a party and you’ve debated and decided with yourself that you like that girl (or guy). Well now you actually have to go up to them and say something. Gulp.

Working out what to say, how you’re going to say are one thing. Then there’s the timing. When’s the right moment to approach?

This is the new paradigm for the modern marketer or communicator. We live in the attention economy. You got one shot so you’d better make it good or I’m off to the next thing.

Creativity isn’t new. Ad men have been doing it and doing it well for years. What’s changed is the speed in which it can be delivered. Coming up with brilliant ideas takes on a whole new dimension when you have to do it under the pressure of the clock.

Those in the know will have heard of the great examples from the likes of SmartBodyform and of course Old Spice.

While it’s not a science in predicting how to get a ‘social media home run’, there are a few tips I’ve come across over the years that should help:

  • Brainstorm different scenarios for your and create responses to be delivered that scenario (like a comedian does) when creating a content calendar
  • Make sure you know the entire history of the brand (warts and all). It help you tell the story better.
  • Have a listening team on hand to pick out trends that can be acted upon
  • Make sure your team has a real web geek (you know the kind of guy that spends a lot of time on Reddit or 4Chan). They’re invaluable in understanding the obscure channels to help get the content seeded out as well as the ‘next big thing’ on the web
  • Don’t be afraid to use a bit of paid action to get content seen. Expecting things to ‘go viral’ organically is one of the biggest misconceptions around social media marketing

I truly believe this is future of communications (note I did not say PR). Coming up with a concept in the morning, developing it the afternoon and publishing it in the evening. Scary. But then again scary is good right?

What is influence?

What is influence and how do you measure it? It’s the eternal question that PR and marketing types constantly ask themselves. A case in point comes from the guys at the Brass who’ve created a Twitter influence measurement tool not too dissimilar to our own Chatterscope and are experimenting with it as part of Social Media Week London (#SMWLdn)

For those whom social media is very much part of their day job, measuring influence from an analytical standpoint is, has been and will continue to be a challenge. And that’s because it’s inherently not something that can be measured. Influence on someone else comes down to the sum of a person’s right and left-brained take on things. Of course, we can track specific metrics on campaigns (and this is where PR professionals need to embrace analytics) but it’s important to place as much weight on the irrational, fuzzy, element in campaigns as well.

My approach on how PR and social media people can report on or track influence for clients comes down to balance. Companies and brands should have a pretty good idea of what influence they wield offline and then seek to replicate this online. The two should exist in tandem otherwise you end up with a well-known brand name that gets exploited online or more commonly an online sensation that gets forgotten about when next week’s hype comes along.