Is Your PR company Taking The Ps Out Of Public Relations & Marketing?

When did your PR company last talk to you about the pillars of effective marketing communications?  Have they ever talked to you about the 4 Ps [5 if you include people]?  Did they ever want to talk about the other elements that will, ultimately, impact on their chances of delivering success from a PR, marketing or social media campaign? Probably not.

And, herein lies the problem with modern marketing communications. There is only one P that the majority of ‘experts’ care about… yes, you’ve guessed it… Promotion.  Price, Product and Place seem to be a secondary consideration these days – if they’re even given considered at all.  They’ve become the poor cousin to promotion because, well, the more people you can broadcast to, the greater the number of ‘likes’, the larger the number of followers you have the more likely you are to sell stuff or convince people you know what you’re talking about… right?

WRONG!  What most PR companies – and, to be fair, marketeers and social media ‘experts’ – forget is that it doesn’t matter how loud you shout, the more likely you are to sell something. But that’s simply not the case.  There is always an element of a numbers game in marketing and PR, but you can shout as loudly as you can, get as many pieces of coverage, hundreds of RTs and likes and as many eyeballs as you like but if the other four Ps are wrong, it’s not going to matter one bit.  It’s the same when dealing with journalists… if the message, the product, price or people are wrong then why would they want to write about you?

The more conversations I have with so-called PR and social media ‘experts’ the only thing that seems to matter is shouting louder. When I talk about the 4 Ps, I often get a blank look.  “The 4 Ps?”.  “Yes,” I say. “You know…” but the look in their eyes says they don’t.

My point? Before you embark on the Promotion part of your marketing communications, make sure that your consultant understands how the other three support the success of the fourth P.  If the first three Ps are right, the fourth should be very straight forward.  It’s also why an integrated marketing communications plan will deliver results far more quickly and with a fraction of the investment in people or cash than one that simply focuses on Promotion.

After all, if all you’re doing is shouting more loudly than your competition you’ll just be taking the P out of the marketing mix.

Lance Armstrong: crisis communications master stroke or madness?

I’ve been asked whether I think Lance Armstrong’s latest move in his long drawn-out battle with those that accuse him of doping is genius or suicide so I thought I’d post about it.  It’s potentially both, but based on what I know of the case, having read Armstrong’s statement and knowing the rider’s history – I’ve ridden bicycles continuously since I was first given one – I’m leaning more towards genius!

Let’s assume for the purposes of this post that he is innocent. Given Armstrong has always maintained he has is clean and has never failed a test, despite having been tested hundreds of times and, to date, no evidence has been presented that disproves his position it seems only reasonable!  Armstrong’s withdrawal from the process puts the pressure back on the his accusers – in this case the USADA – to show the evidence they have against him. If they are unable to do so [and I mean evidence that would stand up to scrutiny in a court of law] then this quickly becomes a PR disaster for the US anti-doping body.

Armstrong’s withdrawal from the situation has already raised questions over the legitimacy of the USADA to strip him of his seven Tour de France titles despite its assertion that it is “confident” it does.  The event is sanctioned by the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale] – cycling’s world governing body and, on its own website the USADA describes itself as “…the national anti-doping organization for the Olympic movement in the United States. The U.S. Congress recognized USADA as “the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sport in the United States.” Olympics… not Tour De France.

On the other hand, if the USADA can provide credible evidence – as it claims it can [but has yet to provide] then Armstrong’s move initiates the death throes of his career, legacy, foundation…

While we’re on the topic of crisis communications here are a few tips on how to manage a crisis:

Know what you’re dealing with before you say anything. Make sure you have a full understanding of what did and didn’t happen so that you can develop a strategy that deals with the real crisis.  It’ll also ensure that you can’t be accused of misleading

Understand the relative jurisdictions involved.  Are there legal issues? Personal matters? It’s important to be clear what relates directly to your organization so that your communications strategy focuses on these issues and not on those that fall outside of your responsibility or sphere of expertise or legal jurisdiction.

Keep statements to the facts.  Don’t comment on things that aren’t directly related to you or your organization and don’t get drawn into commenting on rumour or speculation.  In some cases a holding statement is the best strategy: expressing shock, offering condolences or apologies, or giving assurances that a full investigation will be conducted and a more detailed statement given once this has been completed.

Control the timing. In today’s real-time internet world journalists [and their readers/viewers] want to know everything… NOW.  Don’t let your strategy be driven by either traditional or social media.  Using holding statements can provide a valuable tool here enabling you to provide updates on progress and setting timescales for a more detailed statement.  If you need to inform shareholders, investors or others before making a statement [either through courtesy or regulatory mandate] then it’s important to ensure that this is done prior to a statement being made.

Be transparent. Being open and honest is always the best strategy.  Honest mistakes [if that’s what they are] will likely be forgiven more quickly if they are taken responsibility for, than if your audience thinks you aren’t being upfront.

If you have any questions about how to manage a crisis we’ll be happy to help you build a crisis management plan that will serve you well in the event that it is needed.


Stories like this one in the Seattle Times are making Lance Armstrong’s strategy a very good one.

Apple to add Warp Drive to iPhone 5?!

 … and then, perhaps, it won’t.

The sails on the Apple rumour mill are turning at maximum velocity as gadget fans around the world coil themselves into a frenzy right now.  Until Apple makes an announcement on [if we believe the rumours] September 12th about  what its new iPhone [5? New? 2013?!] and, iPad Mini [if indeed it will ever launch such a product] however, it won’t stop people from speculating.  I for one – a self-confessed Mac fanboy have a serious case of iPhatigue!

There’s an almost daily story by one gadget publication or another. Even the broadsheets have got in on the act – knowing that every time they run a story that suggests it has new – often leaked] images, components or insider opinion, they’ll be guaranteed a surge of clicks from the Apple fanboys and girls eager to get a sneak preview of the Cupertino-based company’s latest products. So, I thought I’d see what happened if I wrote a similar story!

The truth is that the majority of these stories are baseless.  The media knows it; readers know it; but yet every time there are rumours of a new product announcement the same media circus begins.  I’ve seen stories recently that claim, ‘this could be the new iPhone 5 logic board’ [it could, but it could equally just be a logic board], ‘this could be the new iPhone 5 battery [again, possible… but likely? Maybe not] and ‘an iPhone 5 dock connector that MAY use Magsafe technology’.

If you’re a product marketer [working in the B2B or B2C sectors] then you should be taking notes… copious notes.  No other company I know comes close to generating this sort of hype around a new product launch – and by using a few simple tactics Apple uses you can significantly improve the success of your new product.  I’ll be breaking out how Apple does it in a forthcoming blog post, but if you’d like to know more before then drop me a line via email or give me a call and I’ll be happy to explain.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your best guesses on what new and innovative functionality Apple will announce in its latest iPhone and iPad products.


Image via

According to Pocket-Lint Apple will announce its latest iPhone – the ‘new’… ‘5’… ‘Enterprise’? on September 12.  Details of the invite it received to the event are available here

How To Avoid Audio Killing Your Video Star

I’ve been working on a few video projects for clients recently.  One thing I’ve seen time and time again as part of my research is companies that have spent thousands on creating videos with television-quality video production values… but with audio that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to watch.

With video an increasingly important part of  modern communications strategies [and growing evidence that online videos are listened to, rather than watched] it is vital that you don’t let valuable content go to waste because of a poor audio track.  Here are a few tips to ensuring that the sound on your video does the rest of the content justice:

  • Invest in a decent microphone.  Spending a few hundred dollars on a professional-grade piece of kit will return your investment within a few weeks.  One of the most common problems is indistinct audio [echo, background noise, ‘popping’] and investing in a lip mic like the the Coles 4104 will solve these problems.  It was created for use by BBC Radio sports commentators to minimize the amount of background noise so that listeners could  focus on what was being described.
  • Listen to your own voice.  Investing in a decent pair of headphones will make a real difference to an audio recording.  It blocks out unnecessary distractions and provides an accurate experience of the audio track your audience will hear.
  • Create the right environment. Too often web audio sounds like it was recorded in the bathroom.  This is because most buildings aren’t designed for audio recording, so sound bounces off walls, glass windows, fixtures and fittings and wood flooring.  If you don’t have an audio studio to record in [how many companies do?!] then find a space that has as few of the things mentioned above to record in.  One tip is to stand in the corner of a room, where your voice will only ‘bounce’ off of two, solid, surfaces.
  • Script it.  Too often web video is not scripted – webinar presenters are particularly frequent offenders.  I’m not suggesting that all web video should be scripted, having a framework for a webinar presenter to work from will help to make the whole thing sound a little more professional.
  • Turn off all electrical devices.  Yes, I mean EVERYTHING, and I mean OFF.  One of the most common background sounds on B2B web videos is electromagnetic   [it’s the whirring sound you hear].  Obviously, in some cases, like live broadcasts, it’s not practical to turn everything off, but if you’re recording a track to accompany a produced video then you’ll hear a dramatic improvement to the audio by following this tip.  Even if you put your cell phone on to silent you’ll still hear it ring when you play back the recording.
  • Practice.  One of the most over-looked parts of most audio tracks.  People think that if they can read it, they can record it.  It’s a much used adage, but true… practice DOES make perfect.  Practice will also iron out the most common unwanted additions to an audio track… the ‘err’ and the ‘umm’.
  • Slow down.  In broadcasting there’s what is know as ‘reading to time’ – a pace at which it is easy for the listener to take in what is being said.  Broadcast journalists write to time to ensure that they have just enough words to fill a particular slot, and not too few,working to a three words per second rule.
  • Stand up. Standing up changes the way your voice sounds [try it now and you’ll hear the difference].  Want to sound authoritative, knowledgeable, full of energy?  Standing up helps convince your listeners that you are all of these things.
  • Scream and shout.  Before you start recording… not while you are recording.  Having a good old shout releases the tension from your voice, making it sound much more authoritative, calm and collected – its especially good if you’re nervous too.
  • Use silence as a tool.  Dead air scares people… but it shouldn’t.  In the same way that a dramatic pause in a presentation can add real value, so stopping and letting your viewers/listeners think about what you’ve said can be a very effective tool in communicating your message.  Very few firms use it – by doing so, you’ll stand out from the crowd.
  • Understand your audience.  This is, perhaps, the most important piece of advice I can offer.  If you know your audience it’ll help guide the content, tone, language and length of your audio/video.  It’s also the most overlooked part of any audio/video recording.

What other things do you do to improve the quality of your audio and video presentations?

10 reasons why the future of the PR industry is doomed!

I don’t usually read industry magazines or websites, but today I made an exception.  I should know better. Two articles on Ragan’s PR Daily caught my attention.  The first, by Nicole Rose Dion is called 10 mistakes and the lessons learned from the PR world.  If you work in PR and this is how you run your client accounts then you need to go do something else.

Some of Ms. Dion’s “mistakes”, (in addition to writing this article), include:

  • “… admitting [to a client] to a mistake in an email”.  Nicole suggests talking to the client about it on the telephone because, “You never want to give your client or contact hard (written) evidence to use against you.”.  If your client relationship is so fragile that you can’t own up to a mistake, and worry that by admitting it you give them ammunition to fire you down the line then you really shouldn’t be working with them.

Lesson learned: Honesty counts for everything in a client/agency relationship – on both sides.  Owning up to a mistake and explaining how you’re going to fix it is, in my book, always preferable to having a ‘quiet chat’ that can be denied if necessary.

  • You tried to help.  Nicole’s lesson learned is “No matter what your intentions, don’t try to help in a situation when you don’t have to.”  She advocates you “let it go” if a journalist or client is “having a meltdown or is complaining to your coworker about something and you think you can help”.  Either that, or letting your boss deal with the problem.

Lesson learned: Understanding the cause of the “meltdown” is critical. It’s the only way it can be resolved quickly and to the satisfaction of the client.  It’s worth noting that my advice is actually to take steps to avoid the problem in the first place, but simply passing the buck to a colleague or boss won’t do anything for your long-term credibility with the client or journalist.  I know my approach is old-fashioned, but it’s also effective.

  • You didn’t BCC people in a mass email.

Lesson learned: If you can’t work Outlook then you really shouldn’t be allowed near a computer let alone working in PR.  HR failed if you can’t, and they let you!

  •  You sent your client your media list. Nicole suggests this is a bad idea for two reasons.  They might start contacting journalists, or you both might end up looking stupid if you contact the same person.
Lesson Learned: It’s about account management.  If a client is contacting journalists rather than having you do it [after all, they’re probably paying you to do it] then it suggests you’re not doing it right.  If you are both calling journalists and can’t agree who calls who… you shouldn’t be managing PR accounts for clients.  As for sharing media lists with clients, the list should be compiled and agreed with the client and reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it remains relevant. More on clients and media lists in a future post…  

The second article that caught my eye today is called 7 Signs your PR efforts need a reboot by Dorothy Crenshaw, one of PR Week’s 100 Most Powerful Women.  But, more about that later!!

The Paradox of Customer Engagement

Some companies measure the effectiveness of their customer service agents by the length of time a call lasts. The shorter the call, the more effective the agent is perceived to be.  These same companies also spend tens, or hundreds, of millions of dollars trying to reduce churn or persuade customers to buy their latest, greatest products.

Hang on a minute…

I was recently talking with a company about how they could build an efficient, cost-effective mechanism for establishing and maintaining long-term relationships with prospects and customers.  It’s the Holy Grail in communications circles. What if you could create a way to turn customer service [perceived as a cost to a business] into a way to sell more?  That’d be cool, right?

Now, while it might sound like rocket science, it’s actually not as difficult to deliver as it sounds.   It’s just that very few companies are doing it right now, and even the ones that are, aren’t doing it very well.  The customer experience is still ‘clunky’ and there’s often no way to have a conversation with an organization across multiple channels.  Every time you tweet, email, call or ‘Facebook’, you end up having to talk to a different person, you have to explain the history of your conversation, and you end up being at the mercy of the organizations often compartmentalized customer service process.

But, what if there was a way for a customer to have a conversation with a whole company? In the days of email, social media, telephone call-centers, etc. it is possible to have a multi-channel conversation with an organization that starts in customer service and ends in sales [or vice versa].  You just have to know how to do it.  So, if your business would benefit from an integrated customer engagement strategy, that made it easy for customers to talk with you – and for you to talk with them – drop us a line.  We’ll be happy to discuss what your social engagement process might look like, how it can be delivered and why it’ll add value to your business from day one.

10 years?! #BB10 won’t see RIM through the next 10 weeks!

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins has been quoted recently as saying that he believes that the handset maker’s new BlackBerry 10 [#BB10] operating system, now slated for release in early 2013, will serve the company for the next ten years.  I have no doubt that he believes this, but I don’t think it’ll serve the company for the next ten weeks – let alone the next decade.   If, as has been predicted by the technology press, Apple releases the iPhone 5, running iOS 6 on September 12th, BB10 will be dead.

iPhone 5 aside, Apple will have launched 10 versions of its iOS operating system in just over 5 years.  Google has released the same number of versions of its Android platform since it was launched in September 2008. BlackBerry, on the other hand, has launched just four versions of its smartphone OS since 2002.  If, as Heins predicts, BB10 will serve the company for the next decade it will have updated the foundations of its mobile business just five times in 20 years.

Aside from the technical folly of this approach, the marketing impact is huge.  Both Apple and Google have had ten high profile opportunities to tell customers [and prospective customers] about new functionality and how they’ve fixed existing bugs.  They’ve had ten opportunities to woo the press, set out their vision, communicate key messages and build strong relationships.  They’ve had ten opportunities to create a sense of anticipation in the market: Apple whips fans into near frenzy in the run up to a new product launch based on rumour and speculation alone!  RIM has had just five of these opportunities… in ten years.

Even if RIM survives long enough, #BB10 arrives on time and it is the technological leviathan that Heins claims, it’s a one shot chance.  A once-in-a-decade chance to turn the company around… what are the odds? My bet is that Apple will announce all of the key, ‘killer’, functionality planned for BlackBerry 10 when it launches its new iPhone early next month and RIM’s revolutionary new OS will be dead on arrival.

Sad but, likely, true.

Update:  Now James Faucette of analysts Pacific Crest agrees

Read my other posts about Research In Motion here


RIM: It Was ALWAYS Going To Come To This…

If you’ve not read it yet the article in Canadian Business’s July edition is a must read for every Canadian technology and business fan.  Titled, ‘It Didn’t Have To Come To This‘ it charts what Editor James Cowan believes are the key factors in the demise of the once mighty Canadian technology giant, Research In Motion.  All of the points that Cowan makes are spot on – he likens RIM to a Shakespearean character with a fatal flaw – citing arrogance as the primary reason for the company’s fall from grace.  I’d also add denial to RIM’s list of flaws for good measure.

But, while Cowan’s article argues that RIM didn’t have to find itself in the position that it does today I believe it was always going to come to this.  From the moment that the company set out on a strategy of emulating the iPhone, rather than focusing on developing its own product to best serve the needs of its customers it was doomed to a slow and painful death.  I also believe that in order for RIM to have any chance of evolving it HAS to come to this.

If RIM can survive the impending dutch auction of its assets and IP there is a chance that it could live to fight another day.  But, it will need to reinvent itself – and that means new leadership, new ideas, new technology and a new brand.  The BlackBerry name has taken such a beating that any attempt to revive it will be doomed from day one – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  The BlackBerry brand is damaged… tainted… and RIM must rebrand if it is to survive.

Another of RIM’s fatal flaws has been to misread the cultural change taking place in the mobile industry – and any company emerging from RIM’s ashes must understand that product or operating system life-cycles are now measured in weeks and months, not years or decades.  It’s a lesson that is not exclusive to RIM. I wrote recently about why I believe that Apple  runs the risk of losing its competitive edge due to a stolid hardware and software release schedule.