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.


Thoughts on helping agencies help clients

Following on from my last post on ‘what’s really behind the social brief‘ I thought it might be a good idea to expand on some practical steps to elevate the problem that many agencies face when it appears their clients don’t ‘get it’.

Training and education seem the obvious first step to start. However let me break down the notion of ‘training’ in terms of what people expect it to be and what it best delivers.

One of the best ‘training’ session I’ve ever been involved in was conducted by my good friend and ex-colleague Hastie Aftkhami (who is global head of training at Social@Ogilvy). I put the inverted commas around the word training because if fact it didn’t fell like training at all. It was a session on training trainers and it centred on how training session should be set out. The crux of the session was that training isn’t so much about imparting wisdom as opening people’s minds to new behaviours and giving them frameworks to adapt seamlessly to those behaviours.

The common misconception people have around training typically aligns around the expectation that they will be told what to do for a particular scenario. For instance, a new department has been given a new piece of software to use and the team who designed the software run a ‘training session’ on the features of using that software. All very well and good you might say, but the problem with many of these types of training is more often than not, the facilitators completely fail to appreciate the environment in which they product will be used. To borrow from another psychological reference, they lack the empathy and emotional intelligence to understand how they users will use they products in anger (ie on a day-to-day basis when the pressure is on).

When it comes to running social media led campaigns for clients, agencies can fall into this trap. Particularly when the client isn’t really sure what it is they want. Most agencies will act dumb and just churn out something for the client based on some loose notion of what they ‘think’ they want.

The smart agencies will attempt to educate the client on what they should be doing often with varying degrees of success and then resort to churning out something for the client based on some loose notion of what they think they want.

The really smart agencies go the extra mile to open a clients mind around the new behaviours a social media led campaign should bring about and set out a vision of what it will deliver. And naturally this will map back to an underlying business objective the client has. That could be helping them towards increasing a market share, reducing an operating cost or perhaps even increasing sales or revenue!

It starts however with really getting to know what your clients business is all about and then helping them visualise what the future will look like with your help. It certainly isn’t easy. But then if it was, everyone would be doing it right.

Of course, I’m always open to a different point of view.

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?

Grad life sure ain’t easy

It must be tough being a grad looking for work. On a day when the UK officially entered back into recession, I was invited to attend a session to speak on how to get into PR.

The panel included a broad spectrum of people from different backgrounds and was organised by Ignite – a firm dedicated to promoting cultural diversity within PR.

A few things stood out for me:

1) Getting a job through the grad process isn’t easy. When you’re competing against 1000 applicants you have to be amazing to stand out

2) Although employers love to see confidence in a potential recruit, it ain’t easy being confident as a grad when you have no experience about anything

3) Networking should be taught as part of a PR degree. I spoke to a few attendees but not one asked for my business card nor had one when I asked

4) Although the event was about getting people from diverse backgrounds into PR, I genuinely think that in this day and age getting a job is more about your attitude than where you come from.

5) With the 24 hour access to information about anything and everything, there really is no excuse for grads not to have a basic understanding of an industry sector or news agenda.

All in all it was an enjoyable event. Just a shame we got turfed out of the bar early. Then again on a school night that was probably for the best.

The law catches up with Twitterers

Not a day goes by  now when some footballer doesn’t get into trouble for posting something they shouldn’t have on Twitter (or some other form of blogging platform). Sometimes it’s relatively harmeless such as Ryan Babel, other times it takes on a more sinister tone. Sheffield United’s Connor Brown and his alleged comments on Twitter over the Ched Evans conviction is the perfect case of footballers not really understanding the power of the publishing tools they possess. In fairness, to footballer it appears that many don’t understand the laws of the land when it comes to publishing. After the whole Giggs incident, it seems the law is finally getting a hand on policing the internet by arresting Twitter uses who named the victim as well as investigating Sky who accidentally amplified matters.

Maybe sites such as Twitter need users to download and read a code of ethics or idiots guide to publishing law before being allowed to sign up.

Moving on…

Six years ago I entered the doors of Millbank Tower to be greeted by a cacophony of people talking loudly on phones, blaring TV screens, and iMacs aplenty. I remember thinking, ‘wow so this is what a PR agency is like.’

Within a week I’d been lemonpartied (I’m not linking to that), told I’d never ‘make it’ at the agency due to being an Arsenal fan (thanks Nick) and got pissed with the CEO who warned me about the then marketing manager scaring new recruits with requests to ‘nosh him off’ (anyone who worked at LEWIS pre-2007 will know who I mean). Thanks Chris.

I knew then I’d have lots of fun and learn a lot about the industry. And that’s exactly what happened. From the infamous LMC parties to countless nights at the Muppet, the last six years have been a blast. I’ve also managed to learn one to two things about this thing the kids are calling social media, work with some brilliant characters and on some great (not too mention challenging) clients.

However as they say all good things come to an end and from next week I’ll be joining Ogilvy’s 360 digital influence team. For some time, I’ve admired Ogilvy’s approach to social marketing; from creating a blogger outreach code of ethics to some very smart thinking around influencer marketing. So at a time when there’s a lot of talk about how social media is bringing a convergence of marketing disciplines (my own thoughts on the matter here) the opportunity to work right at the heart of this was just too good to pass up.

I’m told the ethos for my new team is fun, fame and fortune so looks like I’m going to be doing a lot more schmoozing, helping the agency pick up more of these and making a ton of cash in the process. I just hope they also feed my Mac addiction.

You say potato, I say potarto – how much does diversity play within your search marketing?

One of the benefits of social media is that it has forced marketers to focus more on building and nurturing communities rather than the spray and pray, one size fits one model that has defined the industry for decades.

But how much of a role does diversity play when it comes to really understanding the different communities marketers seek to engage with? And what how much should search marketers get to know or exploit colloquiums when optimising keywords?

Search is a particularly hot topic for PR professionals now. Perhaps not quite as sexy as social media but many in the industry are starting to realise that search is very much interlinked (excuse the pun) with its more glamourous cousin in helping a marketing campaign meet its objectives.  They might be late to the party but PR pros are starting to wake to the importance search engines play in communicating a message. While they might not have the technical skills of SEO marketers, PR brings a certain advantage when it comes to relationship building but also in the form of keyword research and understanding what audiences are actually looking for when they ‘Google’ something.

Added to this is the rise in social search. This is where recommendations from your friends show up in your search results. You type ‘football boots’ into Google and within the search results that come back you’re alerted to the fact that your brother-in-law who had a trial at the Emirates recently ‘liked’ the latest Nike boots on Facebook. As a consumer, you want to know personal recommendations before making buying decisions. And as a marketer, you can finally get some of the coveted ROI that your finance director has been hounding you for.

As a web evolves to fit around our lives having a social elements to marketing campaigns will become the rule rather than the exception. Having a diverse campaign team that is not only able to tap into local lingo and jargon but is also astute enough to spot and capitalise on opportunities in the mainstream media that drive search trends is worth its weight in gold.


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.

Social search is cool. But what does it mean for traditional PR?

I was reading a very interesting post from Altimeter Group’s Charlene Li about the new developments from Bing and it’s integration with Facebook search. As the web continues to dominate every facet of life, having the knowledge and ability to manipulate social networks to communicate a client’s message is an ongoing debate within the PR community.

I’ve long argued that social media is good for PR because it allows us to bring an element of science to what has traditionally been viewed as a ‘fluffy’ profession. Traditional PR purists would argue that PR is fundamentally about relationships which by their very nature can’t be measured and often hark back to the days when a strategic booze-fuelled lunch with an editor would guarentee a client coverage. While the times have moved on from then, I do think there is a danger that in a world of metrics, we lose sight of the importance of relationships. This is where the social media idealists often clash with the social media sceptics.

Social search, however, changes this by bringing together the best of both worlds. Seeing what friends or colleagues find interesting or helpful will always form the basis of our buying decisions. Being able to transfer that offline relationship online in a way that can be measured has now become the holy grail for the PR community.