Paid: a must, not a maybe for PR

This afternoon I spoke on a panel at FutureComms15. The topic was PESO – paid, earned, shared and owned media.

My argument was simple – in this new digital age, paid media makes so much sense from a PR standpoint, I think there is no reason why it shouldn’t be part of all campaigns and programmes.

SEO, a missed opportunity

I believe the PR industry missed out on the opportunity presented by the growth of SEO (and still has in many places). And there is a danger the same will happen with paid media.

But, there is a caveat. The danger with paid is that it becomes a way to push crap content to audiences. That’s why we must not lose any of the rigour when it comes to creating great, quality content that tells compelling stories.

Paid doesn’t have to be taxing

2015-06-18_1908Paid media doesn’t have to be hard or expensive to use. In fact, it is easy to merely see it (at least to start with) as an extension of your existing PR activities.

For example, why not using Outbrain or Taboola to boost great editorial content? Why not using Twitter paid techniques to target lists of influencers with relevant content alongside organic outreach?

As Paul Sutton said on the panel, we need to be thinking about paid – and PESO in general – right at the beginning of campaigns, not just as an add-on.

What’s holding you back?

So why has the industry been tentative so far with paid? For me, it is a mindset issue.

Paid is seen as ‘cheating’ when it comes to PR. That needs to change. It needs to be seen as a strategic way to reach the right people with the right message and engage them.

That starts with education. Education in our agencies, in in-house teams and education across the industry. That means agencies taking clients on a journey – it’s not always easy to extract paid media budget from comms clients but the proof is in the pudding, so make the case using hard metrics.

Small steps

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be hard. All it takes is a small additional budget when you next run your campaign.

So start small, be prepared to fail and learn, educate and build into future campaigns.

5 quick fixes for the PR industry #stateofpr

This morning, the CIPR released its State of PR report. Wadds has a good summary on his blog.

It’s full of the same old stuff that we’ve all been banging on about for ages – lack of digital skills, ignorance when it comes to measurement, lack of diversity/gender equality, focus on media relations, poor work-life balance…

And that’s not to undermine what are, generally important issues that our ‘industry’ needs to combat.

But, for me, that’s the problem with all of this. Generally there is nothing in here that will be surprising to anyone working in (and probably outside PR) – at the PRCA, we released some digital research which had very similar conclusions.

What I’d love to see from the CIPR is some action in terms of what they (and us in the industry) can do to combat these issues. Just saying that we need to become more ‘professional’ doesn’t really do it for me.

Here’s five quick ideas for starters, please share any others you have below in the comments or on Twitter and I’ll add to the post.

  1. Skills test for new recruits – create a test that anyone applying to a PR agency or in-house job has to complete in order to get the job – think driving test – regulated by the CIPR/PRCA (maybe for promotions too)
  2. Agency commitments – require any agency that is a member of a professional body to prove levels of compliance on an annual basis – e.g. training offered to staff, diversity, salary equality. Publish the findings and name and shame agencies that fail to comply.
  3. Free training/courses/conference attendance offered to in-house practitioners – increasing the levels of knowledge from in-house professionals is vital to ensure the whole industry moves away from the obsession with media relations.
  4. Measurement panel for award entries – Require all award entries that are shortlisted to answer questions from a measurement panel about their measurement and evaluation – monitored by AMEC
  5. Get employees to rate their agencies – Rather than best ‘places to work’ for studies – create other categories where agency staff are asked (anonymously) about levels of training, digital capabilities etc.

10 practical next steps for future-thinking PRs

I was speaking earlier this week at the #futurecomms14 conference on a panel looking at how technology is changing/will change PR.

During the session I was asked what I thought PR professionals needed to do to make the most of technological change.

My answer was to ‘be curious’.

Experiment, try things out, always be on the look out for something that could transform your business or your client’s business.

At the drinks afterwards I was asked about some of the practical steps that ‘curious’ PRs should take. Here are ten for starters – all of them either free or very low cost with low barriers to entry – thanks to John and Max for their input.

I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

  1. Start creating some Google Analytics custom dashboards
  2. This one was mentioned at the conference – start playing with IFTTT and Yahoo Pipes
  3. Investigate quantified self and wearables – download the Moves app for free or buy yourself a wearable
  4. Use Google TrendsGoogle Dashboard and Data Wrapper to investigate data and how to present it
  5. Play with social networks – especially those outside the big 5 – e.g. Vine, SnapchatVkontakte, Path, Jelly, Yo
  6. Advanced Twitter – use Twitter lists, Buffer, personalised URLs and Tweetdeck if you don’t already. Set up a Twitter card and run some promoted tweets or accounts
  7. Advanced Facebook – get to grips with Facebook Insights and run a promoted posts campaign
  8. SEO – read moz.com’s guide to SEO, set up a Google Adwords campaign and get used to using Keyword Planner
  9. Get to grips with Google Authorship mark-up
  10. Read the newly released AMEC guide to social media measurement and use the framework when planning your next campaign

picture credit

PR masterstroke: how Uber controlled the story and beat the cabbies

Imagine the scene: hundreds of taxis blocking Trafalgar Square causing gridlock all across central London just to protest against your company.

uberMany would immediately classify this as a communication crisis situation.

But, when exactly this scenario occured yesterday, Uber turned the tables and the plucky upstart created profit out of chaos.

Clash of cultures

Nothing could demonstrate better the clash of old versus new. While cabbies were sitting in the most almighty traffic jam, Uber was quickly and easily attracting new users.

How did it do this? With a 360-degree communications strategy that was spot on:

Be prepared – Uber knew this was coming and their strategy was well in place in advance

Control the story – the media stories yesterday were all around how traditional taxis were ignoring new technology and stuck in the past – bang on message. Uber’s full page adverts in the papers yesterday only helped underline this fact – complete with the #movingon hashtag

uber2Move the story on – then, half way through the day, Uber released its masterstroke – launching a new service – UberTaxi. The email that went out to existing Uber members started: “Few things are more iconic to London’s streets that the trusty black cab…”

Ouch.

Uber controlled the narrative before, during and after the day, as this cabbie attests.

If this wasn’t just about Uber – as taxi drivers are arguing – then the black cabs and the Unions  failed to get their real message across and TfL were happy to let them fail.

Sway public opinion

And, at the end of the day, there was massive ROI for Uber. Not only was awareness up, conversions skyrocketed with an 850% increase in sign-ups, which was then gleefully reported by most major news outlets today.

For the everyday Londoner, for all the romance around black cabs, where is your sympathy going to lie? With cabbies that caused mayhem and gridlock or a simple app that offers a convenient way to get a lift around town with some free credit to boot?

As Uber said itself: “good for riders, good for London cabbies, and good for the local economy”.

Public opinion is easily swayed.

Me on Tom Foremski on PR

This morning I shared some thoughts with Econsultancy in response to two articles from Tom Foremski that have been causing ripples across social media over the last few days.

You can read the Econsultancy piece here. My full comments are below:

Foremski’s problem is one that seems to afflict many other journalists and it’s an automatic conclusion that PR is intrinsically linked to journalists and press releases. Seen in this light, it’s perhaps understandable that he sees PR as “…a form of SEO; whether the PR industry understands this or not”.

Seen in this light, his argument that Google is out to kill PR is perhaps true.

But my argument in somewhat different. PR has always been about building awareness of a brand or a cause and raising, upholding reputations. PRs have used an array of tactics to achieve this of which the media and organic/paid search are one.

Foremski argues that, with the Panda and Penguin updates, Google has moved away from number of links towards purity, quality and a diverse range of signals, including social media. I don’t see any of that as a threat to PR, I see that as a threat to SEO and an opportunity for PR.

Foremski goes on to give his advice to companies: “Don’t worry about links and SEO beyond the basics. Concentrate on pleasing your customers, let the search engines optimize themselves.” I couldn’t agree with him more. Create great content that your audience will automatically want to share, and Google should take care of the rest. So again, where’s the threat to PR here?

Finally, Foremski quotes Google’s latest update – “”Create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community”. Again, for me, that perfectly describes the role of a PR person or agency.

I agree that if PRs use unsavoury tactics such as buying links or fans then they will quickly become unstuck. But that’s not what modern PR is about and it isn’t what the very best PR agencies are focused on in 2013. They are focused on creating new communication strategies that make the most of the vast array of channels and platforms out there. Yes PR has had to adapt and change to new technological developments just as many other industries have. But the opportunities are there for all to see. It’s why we see agencies from across the marketing sphere hiring PRs and content specialists.

Do I think the press release will die? Yes. Do I think the practice of littering releases across the web via newswires will/should die? Yes. Do I think SEO will die? Very likely. Do I think journalism will die? No, but it’s going to have to drastically change. Do I think PR will die? Well, it depends how you define PR, but if it is defined as a way of producing high quality content and distributing it across all relevant channels to raise awareness and reputation, then I think the answer is a categorical no.

As a PR, I respect Tom Foremski for his excellent linkbait. But when a journalist starts an opinion piece with a sweeping statement, ending in a question mark, you usually know what you’re going to get.

Google AuthorRank and why it’s huge for PR

Last Tuesday, I chaired an event for the PRCA looking at the relationship between PR and SEO. If there is one key theme that came out of the conference, it was that Google’s recent updates (think Panda and Penguin) bring SEO very much into the domain of what you might term ‘traditional PR’ activities.

For the last week or so, the digital marketing community has been buzzing about a new ranking factor, called AuthorRank. Google is expected to roll AuthorRank out very soon and, for me, it once again shows how the boundaries between traditional PR, digital PR and SEO are blurring.

Last year, Google launched its authorship programme. You’ll have come across this in the Google searches you do on a daily basis – where pictures of the author of a particular article appear next to the listing. Ever since this launch, there has been speculation in the digital marketing community that soon, Google would start to use authorship as a determining factor for rankings.

Last week, writing on SEO community site SEOMoz, Mike Arnesen gave the strongest indication yet that this time is nearly upon us. The idea of an AuthorRank makes a lot of sense and, for Google, is part of a much larger, long-term strategy.

Put simply, AuthorRank is how Google will take the authority of an author into account when determining search engine rankings.

Why authors?

Traditionally, Google has looked at the web as a series of websites and webpages and there’s always going to be a place for that.

Google uses a ranking algorithm called PageRank to give different webpages an authority ranking. But what this fails to take into consideration is that, increasingly (in part due to the rise of social media), when you are looking for ‘authority’ around a particular subject area, it’s often the individual content creator that has the authority rather than or in addition to the website, publisher or brand.

A site like Techcrunch has authority in the tech start up space because of the individual writers it has. AuthorRank is an attempt by Google to recognise this and give specific authors their own ranking which will in turn influence the overall ranking of a website.

What is the best way to know if a piece of content is trustworthy? If it is written by someone that has authority in a certain area.

How does this work in practice?

If you want a clear idea of just how fundamental Google+ could be and how much importance Google is placing on it, then look no further than AuthorRank.

When you see someone’s mugshot appear next to a search engine ranking, that is because they have linked their Google+ account to the piece of content they have created – no matter where it is on the web. You can find out more on how to do this (it’s not as scary as it might sound) here.

This is an example of how the impact of Google+ exists far beyond just the platform itself. It extends throughout the internet, giving Google valuable information about an individual and their footprint across the web. Google can then start building up a picture of that person’s influence in specific areas.

Influence you say? Does this have anything to do with PR?

Yes it does! Ok, so there is a bit of technical know-how required (though Google is trying to make things easier and easier). But the idea of building influence for a specific person around a certain subject area is a concept PRs will be incredibly familiar with. It’s called thought leadership and we do it every single day.

Yet again, the types of behaviour that Google is now starting to reward with ranking boosts – content, authority, social sharing – are all things PRs do daily. With a little bit of technical knowledge, PR can have a massive impact on your search rankings.

How does Google define authority?

It’s unclear at the moment exactly the factors Google will use to create AuthorRank and – as with all things Google – we will never know the exact make-up of the algorithm. But, over at SEOMoz, Mike Arnesen has compiled a list of the most likely candidates:

  • The average PageRank of an author’s content
  • The average number of +1s and Google+ shares the author’s content receives
  • The number of Google+ circles an author is in
  • Reciprocal connections to other high AuthorRank authors
  • The number and authority of sites an author’s content has been published to
  • The engagement level of an author’s native Google+ content (i.e., posts to Google+)
  • The level of on-site engagement for an author’s content (i.e., comments and author’s responses to comments)
  • Outside authority indicators (e.g., the presence of a Wikipedia page)
  • YouTube subscribers and/or engagement on authored videos (speculation: multiple-attribution author markup for YouTube videos coming soon)
  • Any number of importance/authority metrics on social networks that Google deems trustworthy enough (Twitter, Quora, LinkedIn, SlideShare, etc.)
  • Real world authority indicators like published works on Google Books or Google Scholar

What are the next steps?

AuthorRank doesn’t seem to be influencing searches yet, but it could be just around the corner. So here are some steps you should take to benefit:

  1. Set up your author profile on Google+ 
  2. Link it to any content you have around the web (here’s our quick, handy guide)
  3. Create great content – it sounds obvious, but if you aren’t creating lots of content already, you need to start. It’s all about quantity AND quality. Gone are the days when you could whack anything up and Google would give you credit. Now it’s all about great content that people want to read and share (did I mention how PR was increasingly important for SEO?)
  4. Use Google+ – a quick look at the list of factors above shows how important Google+ is becoming. So post regularly, circle influential people in your industry, +1, comment, check-in, make sure your profile is complete and that you have a good photo

5 steps to measuring social media PR campaigns

A few months ago, I gave a presentation at a PRCA breakfast seminar focusing on social media analytics. The slides from the presentation are embedded below.

The central theme running through the talk was how to effectively put together a social media PR analytics programme that would accurately and meaningfully measure success and results.

In my mind, there are five very important steps to ensuring you have a social media PR analytics strategy that is effective. The five steps are as follows:

1. What does success look like?

It might seem obvious, but how many agencies and businesses fail to really think about the reasons for embarking on a social media campaign in the first place. The only way to properly analyse is to ensure you know what you hope this activity will achieve in the first place.

There are many different reasons for investing in social media and there will likely be different benefits. But knowing the ones that really matter to your company is vital.

2. Establish KPIs

Once you know what determines success, you can begin to think about the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will give you clues as to whether your objectives are being reached.

Again, it is clear to see how the importance of the first step is again underlined here. When it comes to KPIs, less is most definitely more.

One of the biggest benefits of digital PR is also one of its biggest weaknesses; we have so much data at our disposal, understanding the data that is important to a specific campaign can be hard.

It is clearly tempting to measure everything but that is a recipe for disaster (or at least very long nights). Take each objective and identify the KPI that will give indications of results.

3. Select your tools

One of the biggest mistakes of any analytics programme is to select tools first: “we have purchased Radian6, therefore we’re going to measure XYZ.”

Actually, again, the opposite is the best approach. You need to identify what data you need first (to measure your KPIs and your business objectives) before you begin to search for the tools that will accurately let you capture that data.

4. Turn analysis into action

Analysis for the sake of analysis will not get you very far. If KPIs aren’t delivering results, you need to identify why this is and put in place changes in your strategy to see if that has an effect.

If analysis doesn’t lead to action, there is no point doing it in the first place. Another great advantage of social media and digital PR campaigns is that, because data can be collected in real-time, it is also possible to make changes to strategy in real-time too. Don’t leave it to the end of the campaign to measure, measure all the way through.

5. Rinse, wash, repeat

Building on this last point, an analysis programme never ends. Constant analysis and constant tweaking of a campaign will ensure that final goals are reached.

Nothing should be set in stone. KPIs and even objectives can change depending on the results of your analysis. It’s a cyclical process that allows you to measure and improve on an ongoing basis.

Social media analytics in black and white

View more PowerPoint from Danny Whatmough /  Originally posted on the EML Wildfire tech PR blog

Why clever companies stop selling and start helping

Why do some companies make it so hard for you to do business with them?

I thinking about broadband or mobile phone providers that make you jump over hurdles to switch provider. Gyms that tie you into long contracts. Or websites that make you fill in a form before giving you access to their price list.

There’s one reason, of course: they want to sell more stuff. Historically, this approach has been one that brands have used. Stamp out competition, tie people into long contracts and they will literally be forced to give you their hard earned cash.

Sell, sell, sell

Consumers have never liked this approach and, now, they can voice their dislike in a highly vocal way.

Technology levels the playing field and, when it comes to brand affinity, simple awareness is not enough. Having a product or service pushed down your throat is also no longer a winning strategy.

The ‘hard sell’ is seen for what it is; desperation. That’s why savvy companies are starting to move from  ‘always selling’ to ‘always helping’.

With the diminshing effetiveness of push marketing and a move towards positive brand engagement, ‘being helpful’ might sound trite but it can be incredibly powerful.

When it comes to being helpful, content marketing really comes into its own. Especially when we consider the B2B sales process. Here, buyers are making decisions about where to invest. Now, more than ever, we are unlikely to make a quick purchase without fully investigating all the options.

Help, help, help

Rather than pulling the wool over the eyes of prospects, it’s much more powerful to help them in their decision making quest.

Give them product comparison tables, answer their questions, supply them with whitepapers and other collateral that can help them justify their purchase to senior stakeholders.

And create communities where they can discuss needs with other customers and prospects.

If you have a great product or service, don’t go with the hard sell, but help your audience discover this greatness for themselves. The emotional bond will be far greater too.

Making life difficult, whether through a clock and dagger approach or with a website where it’s impossible to send an enquiry without filling out War and Peace, just won’t work.

Don’t make it difficult, make it simple. Stop selling, start helping.

picture credit / Originally posted on the EML Wildfire tech PR blog

License to create? Information overload is no longer an issue

Do you find yourself lying awake at night worrying about the sheer amount of information that exists on the web?

No? It seems as though you’re not alone.

A recent study from Northwestern University has countered standard thinking around the ‘threat’ of information overload.

Generally accepted wisdom dictates that, with more information being churned out every second on the web, staying on top of all that content is tough.

That’s why attempts to ‘help’ manage information, whether through search or Facebook EdgeRank are seen as not just a nice to have but a vital solution in the securing the future of the web.

But the study, which was lead by Eszter Hargittai, an associate professor of communication studies at Northwestern, interviewed 77 people from across the US and examined their approach to accessing information.

Give me more

It found that, rather than being overwhelmed by the amount of content available, respondents actually liked the fact they had more to consume.

What’s more, it appears we have adapted to the situation we find ourselves in, have developed better skills to help us cope and feel incredibly positive about being more informed:

“We found that the high volume of information available these days seems to make most people feel empowered and enthusiastic. People are able to get their news and information from a diverse set of sources and they seem to like having these options,” said Hargittai.

Other key findings were:

  • TV was still the main way respondents accessed information but online news was viewed more positively.
  • Respondents were almost entirely enthusiastic about new media.
  • Trivial social media updates and opinion pieces from overly political pundits were sources of frustration when looking for information.

So what does that tell those of us working in digital PR and other areas where content marketing is increasingly important?

1. Content consumers are increasingly savvy

Those that reported difficulties with information were those with less advanced ‘internet skills’.

That tells us that we need to worry less about whether people will find our content. Create great content and they will come.

2. Quality matters

Perhaps an obvious statement, but it is worth underlining this fact.

Quantity is no longer a solution. The days of spewing out low quality content to help push search rankings just won’t cut the mustard. This approach has probably never ‘tricked’ anyone into consuming your content apart from search engines anyway.

Don’t post for the sake of it, post because you have something to say.

3. Make content easy to digest

I’m fed up of reading long, turgid blog posts that are hard to read and say nothing.

If you want your content to be read online (and this is even more important when it comes to mobile) then you need to write in a way that works for your audience. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to blogs. The web gives us the opportunity to create engaging content in a multitude of different ways.

Before you put together your next 100 page whitepaper, think about whether there might be a better way to present that information.

4. You need to provide more content (in certain situations)

This study shows that rather than feeling overwhelmed, we feel empowered by having more information.

I’ve written before about how providing the right content at the right time can significantly assist your sales funnel – whether B2B or consumer. When making a buying decision we increasingly expect content to be provided to help us. If content isn’t provided by the vendor (and even if it is) we’ll just look elsewhere.

Work out what information your customers need to help them buy and give it to them.

picture credit / Originally posted on Econsultancy

Content marketing: 6 steps to make your content go further

Content marketing is the buzzword du jour for businesses these days. And, in many ways, the hype is entirely justified. Content should form a central part of most PR and marketing campaigns (some would say it always has) and, now more than ever, with the growth of social, digital and search, content marketing can contribute towards significant ROI for your PR campaigns.

Before everyone gets too excited, it is worth bearing in mind that content for content’s sake just won’t cut the mustard. Objectives, strategies and tactics all have to be aligned in the right way, from the start, to really succeed.

We recently published a new case study on the EML Wildfire site from one of our clients EPiServer, who achieved a 200% ROI on a recent PR campaign we ran. The campaign had content at it’s heart. With the aim of targeting UK marketers, we undertook research to find out how leading UK companies are using social media and online communities. The resulting whitepaper was downloaded 122 times with five deals closed as a result.

Here are six all-important steps that we believe are vital to ensuring your content marketing achieves ROI:

1. Tell a story

The most effective PR always tells a story. And content marketing is no different. For EPiServer, we were able to explain how and why current social media strategies aren’t working and what marketers need to do improve matters. Finding a story that will resonate with your target audience will ensure your content had the desired effect.

2. Have something concrete to reference

With the EPiServer example, we commissioned some research to base the content on. It’s always a good idea to have something to act as a hook, especially if you want to encourage the media to consider covering it. On the flipside, if you are doing some research, make sure you create content to support it – it’ll go a lot further.

3. Use different content to tell your story

Whitepapers or reports are great examples of content that really add value for your audience, especially for B2B campaigns. But there are plenty of other pieces of content that would work just as well in addition or instead. For example, you could create an infographic or a video to go alongside your whitepaper. Different content will work better for specific communication channels and different audiences, so choose wisely. There is a significant SEO benefit here too. Google is increasingly favouring multi-media content, so you might be able to give your rankings a timely boost.

4. Use all your communication channels

When you are ready to launch your content campaign, use every possible channel at your disposal. Using the traditional media and your owned social media channels is an obvious first step but why not add your latest piece of content to your company email signatures? Alternatively, you could create a banner for your website or run some targeted advertising. A multi-channel approach will ensure you reach as many people as possible. And, as with the previous point, the more your content is shared across different channels, the more SEO bonus points you’ll get from the search engines.

5. Build relationships

By this point, hopefully you’ll have lots of people engaging with and sharing the content you have created. It’s important to see this as the first step in your relationship with these people. To do this, you need to create some ‘sticky channels‘. For example, encourage them to sign up to your email newsletter or follow you on Twitter. You could even consider putting your premium content behind a data capture form or a Facebook fangate – just make sure you use this as an opportunity to send them more relevant content in the future.

6. Measure effectiveness

If all goes well, then hopefully you’ll want to run further content campaigns in the future. And, if you’ve set up a measurement framework for your campaign then you’ll be able to see what worked best first time round and make better decisions next time as a result, tweaking your strategy and tactics as you go. For example, you can use web analytics to see where the traffic to your campaign landing page came from. You could even use unique URLs.

When it comes to great content, we’re passionate about using this approach for our clients. But we eat our own dog food too – check out our latest report looking at how consumers are influenced to make technology buying decisions.

picture credit / Originally published on the EML Wildfire tech PR blog