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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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.

What is really behind the ‘social’ campaign brief?

The industry isn’t short of smart people. We constantly hear how to ‘do social media’ right and how people are ‘doing it wrong’. For example, we now all know likes don’t mean sales and that content is the bed rock of campaigns. Why is it then that many campaign wrap ups still heavily feature metrics such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and so much content produced is really bad (i.e. irrelevant and poorly distributed?).

Here’s my hypothesis:

Getting people aligned around an idea is not easy. Getting consensus on something you know to be right is one of the toughest jobs of a leader. And it’s even harder if you aren’t the boss and are trying to get the boss to do what you know to be right.

This is a scenario that I’m sure happens a LOT in the agency world.

Client: We need to do something social. Can you come up with a few ideas for us?

Agency: Can you give us some more details on what the parameters should be?

Client: Not really. Our Board is keen to do something to increase our brand awareness with social. It would be great if you could come up with a few ideas that could wow them?

Agency: Right. What kind of budget are you looking at?

Client: We’re not too sure. Can you give us a range of options on what’s possible?

Agency: Yes we can do that. However it would be helpful if you could give us some ballpark figure. Also what would you say success looks like?

Client: Well that’s difficult to say. We’re aiming to increase brand awareness so anything that delivers that would be considered a success. Oh, and anything that the board really like.

Now if you’ve worked in an agency setting, I’m pretty positive you’ve been involved in a scenario such as this. Here’s my take on what’s at play in these scenarios.

From the client standpoint – they probably work within a hierarchical organisation where commands come down from the board/senior management team. These commands are rarely questioned and those in the chain of command live in constant fear of getting results that are often judged on the whim of a strong personality or a group of people with different expectations of what success looks like.

From the agency perspective – as much as they try to understand what the client really wants or what lies behind the clients requests, there comes a time when they just think, ‘hey we need the revenue. Let’s just go along with what the client says and give them a generic campaign’.

While this scenario might fill some with despair, the reality is many in these situations can only deal with the scenario they are in. The client is unlikely to tell their board that they don’t get social so shouldn’t be involved in it and the agency is unlikely to walk away from the potential revenue. Hence we often arrive at campaigns that aren’t rooted in solving any real problem. Or put in ‘wanky’ business speak, moved the needle in any meaningful way.

I’ve probably oversimplified the situation, but in my view unless much more attention is paid to understanding the organisation culture, motivations and structure of individuals both on client and agency side, we’ll constantly go round in the endless (and tiresome circle) of clients getting disappointed with so-called social media results (whatever that means) and agencies coming up with campaigns to satisfy these requests but never properly scratching the itch. By the way, if you’re interested in understanding this more, I’d strongly recommend reading Attenzi – a social business story by Philip Sheldrake.

Disagree? As ever, I’m happy to be told or proved otherwise.

Disruption, disruption, disruption

For those of us that work in digital communications, it can be easy to forget there’s a whole world out there that are welded to an historical/traditional mindset and approach.

In itself that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just because there are newer ways of doing things, doesn’t mean you have to throw out the baby with the bath water (so to speak)

Except there are instances when it’s clear an overhaul is needed.

Which brings me to my experience last with Nissan. Firstly I just want to say I don’t have an issue with Nissan or the person who was in charge of their twitter handle who I was sparring with. (Or even the leasing company ALD who still haven’t responded).

It’s more to do with the industry as a whole. I’ll explain.

I leased a brand new car about 18 months ago. It was a Nissan Qashqai (I’ve been teased about its Dad-status but that’s besides the point)

Haven’t not owned a car for 10 years prior to that, the responsibilities that come with owning a car (such as services it) had passed me by. Hell I was just excited to have a new toy.

18 months later I realise I should take the car in for a service. The service attendant at the Nissan Garage in Leyton informs me I’ve missed the first year service.

The conversation went as follows:

Nissan service attendant: “You realise you were meant to have serviced the car last year. Did you just forget?”

Me: “Well not really. I never got a reminder telling me it was due. In fact other than being sent a tax disc 6 months ago, I haven’t had any communication for Nissan or anyone.”

Nissan service attendant: “That’s pretty bad. I’d have thought someone would have got in touch with you somewhere down the line.”

So with that, I went through the formalities of booking the car in and as one who works in digital Comms, sent a tweet to Nissan saying, it’s not on that I haven’t heard from then since I brought the car 18 months ago.

The following exchange ensued:

  1. So @NissanUK I’ve haven’t had word from you since I leased my car and now I have to pay extra for an M2 service. Not happy
  2. @eba Hi Eb – sorry, don’t understand the context. Do you lease direct from us, from one of our dealers or via a lease agent? ^DP
  3. @NissanUK It was via a lease agent ALD automotive. Not heard a word from them since I leased in 2011 apart from to replace the tax ->
  4. @NissanUK Didn’t get a service reminder so missed 1yr service. After sales service has been non existent
  5. @eba Understood – isn’t your beef with ALD then and not us? We dont set the terms of a third party lease. ^DP
  6. @NissanUK Yes it is. But I lease a Nissan Qashqai not an ALD Qashqai. Plus I doubt they are on twitter
  7. @eba Then to be frank your being unfair complaining to us about your lease terms – anyway, their twitter handle is – @ALDAutomotiveUK ^DP
  8. @NissanUK Wow your tone is unbelievable. Considering it’s YOUR brand surely some recognition that as a customer I’m not happy is due
  9. @eba Come on Eb, your an experienced tweeter, you know its not cricket to complain indiscriminately – if I could help I could, I promise 1/2
  10. 2/2 but your issue is with ALD and the lease contract you have with them, not us or the car we lovingly built for you by hand 🙂 ^DP
  11. @NissanUK I don’t complain indiscriminately. But to tell me I’m being unfair when I’ve had a poor service from your BRAND is shocking
  12. @eba Hi Eb – this is turning a bit silly – your experience is with the ALD brand while driving a Nissan one. I am trying to help. ^DP
  13. @NissanUK Yes it is. What you should have done it give me ALD’s twitter and then said you’ll have a word with them about aftersales…
  14. @NissanUK Not say I’m being unfair complaining to you (again I add I’m tied to your BRAND) not ALD

Now as someone who as worked with car brands I understand the complexities of the supply chain. However, in the day and age we live in surely the guardians and owners of the brand have the responsibility to ensure that partners aren’t unduly treating their customers and ultimately potential advocates. (Ok I’m being a bit pedantic. At the end of the day all that happened was that I didn’t get a reminder. It’s not the end of the world).

My point is brands spend lots of money trying to connect with customers and influence them to buy into their product or services. But when someone does the systems behind the scenes more often than not, don’t live up to what is being portrayed.

After my twitter exchange with the guy he actually called me up and we had a good chat about how to avoid situations like this for other customers. I appreciate where he is coming from and also the challenges of trying to connect a company that has systems that aren’t designed for the digital age.

It boiled down to the fact that despite being a Nissan advocate, Nissan’s social media team have no way of knowing who I am or linking my online public persona to their customer data.

Nissan are certainly not unique. This story sums up this issue facing many organisations. While their is a lot of effort putting on a public face, things aren’t necessarily working that well behind the scenes.

And this is why a lot of social media efforts are viewed sceptically by the public. Many lack authenticity. And why? Because they aren’t a true representation of the company culture.

Even though social business is becoming another buzzword that’s being banded around, for me this is a real live example of the disruptive power social technologies and thinking will have on many industries.

FYI – I actually really like my Qashqai.

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.