Welcome to the World of PR

(as published in the NUJ Oxford and District Blog – May 27, 2013)

Welcome to the World of PR

I currently work in agency PR, having transitioned from in-house PR and MarCom a couple of years ago. My specialism is also B2B PR, with a further focus on engineering, science and technology. This means that I seldom deal with urgent news (except in incidents or accidents) and also that most of the information I digest and process on behalf of my clients is highly factual. My clients are scientists or engineers and my journalists are also for the most part specialists in their own fields, so precision is of the essence. Nevertheless, the message needs to be engaging (and these days also highly visual) so one of our daily challenges is how we can extract true features and benefits in a concise and absorbing manner, bearing in mind that some of the stuff may also have to be condensed into microblogs (a form of blogging but based on short content like Twitter and Facebook updates).

Occasionally we have to deal with a situation familiar to most PRs in which we are asked to produce ‘non-news’ releases. This is often the case in companies where personalities, instead of good marketing, rule. In the vast majority of these cases we are able to persuade a client that it would be against their own interest to do so, or simply apply other tactics to stall and avoid issuing such releases. However, recently my company was fired by a newly acquired client for not pandering to the wishes of their MD to publish such froth. When a month later the newly appointed PR agency managed to get that company in Private Eye under the ‘Desperate Marketing’ section, we felt vindicated.

The most difficult situations are those involving multiple approval processes across several organisations. You can guarantee that every PR and divisional manager will want to have a say and use a different angle. We have had instances of case studies having been delayed for a year or so while they were ‘under review’. Yes, not exactly the sort of cutting edge stuff that hits a newsdesk… more like the gestation of your classic academic paper!

But aside from any misunderstanding between PR and journalism, we want to work to the best of our abilities to enlighten and instruct our audiences, providing them with good sources of useful and newsworthy information. There are of course rogues in any profession.

In the world of PR, just as in journalism, our main challenge these days is the advent of digital communication. With technical media being increasingly published online, backed up by social media presence and our own clients’ social media channels, there is an awful lot of noise out there. So our job is made a little more complex as we need to spend a lot longer listening, evaluating, pushing and of course reporting too. And these days reports go way beyond basic stuff like Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) as well as entailing other metrics like Audience Engagements and more. Not that all this huge amount of data replaces the old common sense approach and an innate instinct for news… but it just makes our job easier when we have to persuade financial director on how they should spend their money. Welcome to the world of PR.

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Strategy first, content later.

 

Content marketing is rapidly becoming all the rage. With the explosion in social media, and a huge range of tools and techniques available to business, everybody is suddenly becoming a content marketer.  This is true in B2C and is fast becoming the norm in the traditionally slower to react B2B sector.

The result? Noise – a lot of it.

The current situation is almost anarchic. People and companies are hurling a mass of information into the public arena in the hope that something will resonate with their audiences.

The reality is that although there is a wealth of good information being created a lot of useful content is being drowned out.  Of perhaps greater risk is that the rush to communicate creates the potential for serious media crises.

The problem is that many businesses have reacted to the social media phenomenon without taking the time to develop a carefully thought out strategy.  Consequently, there’s no clear intent or consistent delivery of brand values, while messaging in terms of content, style, frequency and impact is at best indifferent.

Let’s be clear: content marketing has the potential to be a powerful and extremely valuable business process.

But like any business process it requires planning, management, review and revision.

So before throwing yourself, and probably many of your colleagues, into the swirling waters of content marketing, ensure you have a clearly defined strategy with solid management techniques.

Here are just a few of the questions you need to consider:

  • What do you want to achieve – what will a successful outcome look like?
  • What are the key messages or brand positions that you want to communicate?
  • Who are you targeting and what makes these people or groups tick?
  • How will you gain their attention and then consistently engage with them?
  • Who in your organisation will manage the process?
  • How will content be created and quality controlled?
  • Will a third party organisation need to be used to help you create content, manage the communication tools and analyse results?
  • How will you measure the effectiveness of the process?

So many questions and probably too few answers.  So if you’d like help in developing, managing and implementing a robust content marketing strategy then get in touch with an experts.

 

Social Media isn’t about control

Controlling the message has been one of the main objectives of most marketers and PR practitioners. We aim to ensure that everything is communicated in a manner that accurately reflects a brand or a product, so we have become accustomed to ramming the message down the throat of audiences, from elegant and subtle ways to louder and more pernicious manners.

Yet with social media this approach doesn’t work. I was attending a Social Media summit in London recently and some surprising facts were revealed. For example, recent studies show that only 14% of all consumers still believe what a marketer tells them. This is an amazingly low figure, since it effectively says that 86% of all your communication efforts are wasted. The reason for it is that people prefer to hear about products and services from other people, preferably from the same peer group.

Someone else at the same meeting compared the social media discourse between suppliers and consumer like inviting a group of people for dinner. When you are entertaining guests you water and feed them and you engage in conversation. You just don’t ram images (or food) down their throats, and they see you for what you really are. You have nowhere to hide – you can’t be a 60 years old man pretending to be a 25 years old Schwarzenegger look alike.

So trying to put too many controls on social media is counter productive. If you pretend to be the company you are not you will be soon be found out and your reputation will be in tatters. You will be portrayed as a caring and concerned company only if you truly are, and if your employees share the same vision and express it on your social media channels.

A good approach to social media therefore isn’t about controlling the message, but is about training your employees (and even your senior managers) on the opportunities afforded by social media and the minimum standards required. How the message is then delivered should be left to the individuals in question. After all, if your employees manage to establish good peer relationships with your customers you can be assured of long lasting relationships and of the highest possible brand loyalty.

We are only scratching the surface of social media. In a decade or so the way we do business will have changed radically. This is a threatening environment only for those companies who aren’t ready to innovate and open up.