What is the difference between PR and publicity?

If PR is media coverage, what is publicity?

This is a question I’ve asked both industry peers and customers alike.  While it’s a rhetorical question with customers, I’m always hopeful that somebody in my industry can explain it to me.  Either that, or they’ll realize that what most ‘PR’ firms sell isn’t public relations at all – it’s publicity.

Most of the time my question is met with silence.  It’s an awkward silence when the conversation is face-to-face and when the conversation is online I get no response.

I thought I’d ask it again today.  The topic of the Future of Communications was being discussed at an event in London, England and so I hoped somebody might be able to offer an answer.  I was disappointed, again.  Or perhaps I wasn’t.

The best I got was from John Brown, Hotwire PR’s Head of Engagement [also known as @brownbare on Twitter] – and it was remarkably honest.

John Brown Hotwire PR Publicity

He’s right.  It’s something I’ve long said.  The problem is that publicity, or awareness, is what most PR firms charge thousands of dollars per month to deliver for their customers.  And now John Brown says it has no real purpose, other than excruciating indulgence.

When I suggested PR was about building and maintaining relationships John was equally candid:

John Brown PR Bollocks

He went on to explain, when I cited the PRSA definition, crowdsourced from PR industry ‘pros’ that people where talking about Google + in 2012.  It’s perhaps worth pointing out that some people still are – and I’m one of them.

So, if PR isn’t about relationships and publicity has no value, what exactly is it that most PR and publicity firms do?  What is their value proposition?  How are they justifying their expensive retainer fees?

Ah, I know… they’re content marketers these days! And, it’s all about storytelling and engagement.

 

 

BlackBerry needs to ‘think different’

This morning the guy sat across from me was using a BlackBerry Passport.  I don’t see them very often so I’ve gotten in to the habit of asking their owners whether they like the odd-looking handset.  While some are slightly embarrassed by the attention they have all, without exception, gone on to tell me it is the best handset they’ve ever owned.

“It’s better than an iPhone”, I was told this morning.  “Better than any of my friends’ Android devices” he continued. “But I’m a BlackBerry fanboy”.  Not words I hear very often these days.

“But they don’t sell the Passport very well.  They don’t tell people how their phones are better than iOS and Android handsets.  If people knew what it did they might sell more.  These days when people see I use a Passport it raises some eyebrows”

And there in lies the problem.  Nobody takes the company seriously anymore.  It’s a troubled company with more attempts at recovering its lost dominance that most people assume the company has failed.  Nobody knows what the company stands for these days.  Who its devices are for.  Why anybody should care.

To have any chance of survival it needs to fix this.  Failing to fix it will make everything else it does a complete waste of time.  It doesn’t matter how many new handsets it launches; keyboard or no keyboard; BlackBerry OS or Android.  BlackBerry needs people to know what it stands for and who its devices are designed for.

“If you’re thinking of a phone for business then you should definitely seriously consider it”.

I am.  Despite my criticism of the company’s marketing and PR activities, I really am. There are more like me – but BlackBerry needs to give them a reason to choose Blackberry.      It needs a think different campaign – and it needs it quickly.

 

What It Takes To Be A PR Leader

The PRSA is talking about what it takes to be a PR Leader today.  Because I may not be able to participate I thought I would write a short piece on what I think it takes to be a leader in the public relations industry.

There are many who claim to be leaders in my industry; the majority are self-proclaimed or appointed.  The PR industry has lacked a credible leader for many years – probably as many as I have been working in it.  That’s too long.

Leadership in the PR industry involves three core elements:

  • Leadership is about continual improvement
  • Leadership is about setting the benchmark for excellence and helping others to achieve it
  • Leadership is about providing a vision for the future of the industry that benefits both those working in it and our customers.
  • Leadership is also about doing something to move the industry forward

It also requires a fundamental understanding of what public relations is.  You can’t hope to lead if you don’t have a grasp of what the fundamental discipline is or how you measure its impact for customers.

Too many of the supposed leaders of the PR industry are big on vision but short on real actions.  They make proclamations like, ‘the future of PR is content marketing’ and ‘PR should own the marketing function’.  Some claim the value of PR has never been clearer – yet fail to explain simply, and clearly, exactly what it is.

Too many of the supposed leaders of the PR industry are chasing the next cash cow, rather than focusing on how to improve what we, as an industry, do.  They are focused on increasing fees, rather than delivering value.  They are focused on being seen to be a leader, rather than on leading.

There are many pretenders but very few credible candidates.

 

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Relationships Are Complex

I was told last week that building relationships and hustle were synonymous – and I think it’s important to address the myth.

Relationships are complex.  They are made up of a combination of words and actions; non-verbal cues and involuntary responses.  In most cases our brains see, process and respond far more quickly than we are consciously aware of – whether to respond to romantic approaches or to remove ourselves from situations that we feel uncomfortable in. Very few relationships are established and maintained by a prescribed set of words, actions and behaviours.  The process is as complex and individual as the people involved in a relationship.

Many of the skills we use to build and maintain personal relationships are innate.  They’re unlearned.  Others are picked up from our life experiences and from the norms  of the company we keep.

This applies to our business relationships as much as it does our personal ones.  Hustle plays a role – whether it’s talking to the guy or girl you like the look of in a bar or at a party, or starting a conversation with a potential investor or prospect.  But building a relationship based on trust and respect is a complex process that involves a combination of real-time interactions and a longer-term ‘dance’.  It involves both verbal and non-verbal cues, behaviours… it has ups and downs… it requires subtlety… it requires influencing third-parties [on both sides] and, ultimately, must be mutually beneficial.

Hustle will only get you so far.

Without A Call To Action Your Content Is Not Marketing

There’s a lot written about content marketing these days.  If you believe the gurus, ninjas, PR pros and ‘experts’ content is the solution to all business ills.

Want to find more customers? Content marketing is the answer.  Want people to believe your company is the Uber of X, Y or Z? Content marketing will help you convince them.  Want to attract millions of dollars in funding? Content marketing is a sure fire way to achieve it.

There are many problems with these assertions but one in particular you should know about.  Content used for marketing purposes – a true piece of marketing communications content – MUST have a call to action.  What’s a call to action?  In its simplest form it is a clear request to the reader to take a defined action.

“Visit your local dealer and book a test drive today”

“Call 1 888 123 1234 to buy the 2016 Chevrolet X’

Sign up today to receive your free gift”

If there’s no call to action then a piece of content is not a piece of marketing communication, it’s promotion. Awareness. Publicity.  Why does this matter?  Simple: because marketing is about getting people to take actions to support your business.  Awareness is simply that.  There’s no attempt to get people to take action and, as as result, can’t be marketing.

Without a call to action, your content isn’t marketing, it’s just content.