This is the future of PR

Much has been written about the future of PR.  My industry has beaten its own brow for years trying to figure out why it doesn’t command a place at the top table. Why it isn’t valued as highly as some of the other communications disciplines. Why it is often the first line item to be cut from budgets when savings are being sought.

The PR industry is either in denial or simply hopes that by asking the question often enough it will eventually convince its customers to give it what it wants.  I have got news for my peers. It won’t!  The future of the public relations industry relies on things changing. Here’s my list.

  • First, it needs a clear definition.   Ask one hundred PR ‘pros’ and you’ll likely get one hundred different definitions. Simply, public relations is about building and maintaining relationships.  I’ve been told this definition is too literal, too specific, too outdated and too vague, by people who either can’t define it at all or use a combination of buzzwords to do so, or insist that it involves playing middleman between customers and journalists.
  • The second thing is that the industry needs a clear value proposition.  This is something that my industry has historically been, at best, poor at.  It could also be accused of dodging the question or spinning it.  The true value a PR specialist can offer is insight and strategic advice, based on experience learned both in school and in practice, to the individual challenges faced by his or her customers.  It is not the arbitrary completion of activities to fit a budget.
  • The third thing that the industry needs to tackle is the retainer fee.  Arbitrarily asking for 5, 10, 15 [and sometimes more] thousand dollars every month is a recipe for failure.  When the minimum contract period is three months it shouldn’t be surprising that most can’t demonstrate return on their customers’ investment.
  • Charging for activity is the fourth thing that the PR industry needs to fix if it is to have any kind of future.  The supposed PR industry leaders are always talking about PR not being given the credit it deserves, but as long as it continues to sell a pre-defined set of activities to every company it works with, assuring them that it will deliver similar value, it has no chance of being taken seriously.  Maintaining this position will only continue to do damage to its credibility.
  • The fifth thing that must change is its current lack of transparency.  It must help customers understand what public relations is all about and their role in using PR successfully as a business strategy. The PR industry must allow customers to see everything it does on their behalf at all times – something it has been loathe to do thus far.
  • The final thing my industry must address in order to have any chance of continuing to prosper is to provide a simple, straightforward framework for measuring the success of its advice.  It’s something I continually hear the industry is working on: the Barcelona principles are, I’m told, proof the industry takes measurement seriously.
  • There are two problems with this argument.  The first is that the principles are now more than 5 years old.  The second is that they focus on replacing advertising equivalency and recognizing the role of social media to PR.  Both of these are, sadly, measuring awareness rather than relationships – the product of publicity, not public relations.

But the PR industry doesn’t want to change.  People like Robert Phillips, former President and CEO, EMEA, of Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm claimed the public relations industry is dead.  I agree.  If not actually dead, it has lost its soul.  Most of the people working in the PR industry are zombies.

I’m tired of hearing the self-serving expressions of intent; the justification of the unjustifiable – the assertion that the future of PR is social media, or content marketing or native advertising – to name just a few.  They make all of the right noises, say the right things to deflect attention from the fact that the PR industry doesn’t want to change.  It quite likes where it is thank you very much.  It gets paid thousands of dollars every month to do who knows what and not explain the value its customers receive.

And so, while others only talk about the future of PR, I have created my vision of the future of the industry.  It provides small businesses and startups with the advice and guidance they need to use public relations to achieve commercial goals – most importantly, when they need it.  It also gives entrepreneurs practical and actionable strategic advice that they can use without the need for a specific communications skill set.

What’s more, I’ve redesigned the fee structure.  There are no retainers. No long-term commitments.  Our customers pay for the strategic advice and guidance they need, not a random set of activities done to justify a retainer fee.   I have also created a new PR framework, based on lean principles, and a simple and easy to understand way to measure outcomes. The future of the PR industry has arrived.

To find out more visit comms.bar.

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.

 

How to get studio quality audio

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.

Why EVERYTHING is not marketing

Is everything marketing?, how is everything marketing

 

In a conversation on Twitter last night a good friend Stefan Lubinski suggested that everything these days is marketing.  I disagree – and here’s why.

There are more platforms than ever before on which to communicate to large groups of people – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Blogger, Pinterest, Foursquare, Instagram, Snapchat, Meerkat, Periscope, Google Plus, Google Hangouts, Email, SMS, WhatsApp… to name but a few.  There are more online publications than ever before – on any topic you can think of.  There are more people using them to publicize products, services, opinions, content – you name it.  But that’s NOT marketing.

At best, the majority of it is publicity; at worst it is just noise.  Like somebody with a megaphone stood shouting at people in the digital street.

Some are shouting orders: ‘Do this!’, ‘Click here!’, ‘Buy this!’, ‘Read that!’.

Very little of it could be described as marketing!

Marketing is about getting people to take a specific action – because they want to.  This requires them to understand what they are being asked to do and do it willingly in order to support you or  your organization.  The action needs to be specific and clearly defined.  It should, also, have a defined commercial value.

No matter how much you urge somebody to do something; no matter how loud you shout or how often, if they don’t want to do it all you do is lose your voice.

I wrote a few months ago that most PR and marketing is publicity that explains more.

 

Why is public relations so expensive?

Why is public relations so expensive?  Because you continue to pay the ridiculous monthly retainer fees that firms charge.  Without question.  You don’t even expect them to quantify the return you will receive on the investment they are asking you to make.  The reason public relations is so expensive is your fault.

The first question that any PR company asks when you enquire about working with them is ‘what’s your budget?’ And you tell them.  At least, you tell them the number you think is the going rate for the cookie-cutter PR ‘strategies’ most sell comprising a standard set of activities and, let’s be honest, very little strategic input.  It’s like playing poker where you show all of the other players your cards – and then wonder why you always end up losing your shirt.

If you want to make public relations more affordable here are three easy things you can do:

  • Start being more specific in what you need.
    You don’t need media pitching. You DEFINITELY don’t need somebody else doing it on your behalf.  Focus on specific short-term outcomes that will help you achieve your big hairy business goals – and have a PR company tell you how they are going to help you achieve them.  Then ask them to put a price on their part in that process.

To get resources and templates that will help secure media coverage email lyndon@comms.bar

  • Focus on building relationships.
    Relationships are the key to the success of every business.  Devote time, energy and money on building strong relationships with the handful of people that are critical to achieving your next milestone

To get a Key Relationship Mapping™ Canvas email lyndon@comms.bar

  • Start focusing.
    Whether it’s milestones towards your ultimate goals or stepping-stones to building a relationship with key people, start focusing on specifics.  Most PR firms justify their activity on the basis that they’re trying to deliver awareness.  Most of the activity is wasted [at your expense] because they’re targeting the wrong people.  More focus means less waste.  Let waste means lower investments.

To start setting pr and marketing goals that will help you achieve commercially valuable outcomes visit https://comms.bar

  • Stop telling PR firms what your budget is.
    It’s the fastest way to have them spend every single cent – and more often than not, it’s not necessary.  More often than not your budget is really what you think the going rate is – but there is no ‘going rate’.  You can’t put a price on activity – only on advice and outcomes that deliver value.

To get affordable pr and marketing advice from startup and small business specialists visit https://comms.bar

Only you have the power to change the price of PR retainers, by voting with your money.  If you refuse to buy in the way that most PR firms sell then they’ll have to change.  But, while you continue to play their game – a game they’ve loaded to ensure they always win, PR will continue to cost thousands of dollars every month and continue to deliver little value for your investment.

For affordable public relations & marketing advice designed for startup and small business budgets visit https://comms.bar

Stop Creating Content. Start Building Relationships.

What if you stopped creating content to post on every social network and publishing platform and focused instead on building relationships?  Think about it.  How much time, money and energy are you wasting by creating content in the name of marketing that has no noticeable impact on your business?

Sure, you might get a few people sharing a post; you might feel good that somebody liked what you wrote; but what’s the tangible value from spending hours every week creating content?  Don’t know?  Don’t want to know?! If you’re doing it because your ‘PR’ or ‘marketing’ company told you to there’s a pretty good chance the only winner in the process is them!

What if you stopped creating content and, instead, focused on building and maintaining relationships with the people who matter most to the success of your business?  What if, rather than creating a piece of content you picked up the phone and talked with somebody? A potential investor; a prospective customer; a journalist; a former customer that just became an ex-customer.

What if, rather than trying to sell them something you asked questions? What if you tried to gather insight, rather than convincing them you’re the Uber of X or that you have a unique, innovative whatever that they simply must buy?  What if you spent the money you’re wasting creating content that nobody reads; nobody cares about; and invested it in the relationships that matter most to the success of your business?

What’s the worst thing that could happen?