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.

 

 

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.

 

Public Relations Is A Business Strategy – Not A Department

National Post Entrepreneur Rick Spence

“I thought I was sitting down with a PR specialist – but you didn’t mention it once in the last two hours!”.

Earlier today I spent two hours with a journalist that writes for one of the three main newspapers in Canada.  He’d was interested in one of the innovations that is part of my business – PR Office Hours – where startup and small business entrepreneurs can sit down with me for 15 minutes and get advice on how to use public relations to tackle a current business challenge for just $50.  They can either book in advance via my website or drop in and hope there’s a spare slot.  It’s a model I’ve borrowed from Apple with its Genius bar.

I had filled the afternoon with people that I had worked with before to ensure that the afternoon wasn’t wasted for the journalist if nobody turned up and because I didn’t want to publicize the fact that this particular session was being shadowed.  None of the participants had been promised coverage as a result, and had agreed to be there to help me demonstrate how it works. You can read his account of our afternoon together here  I explained, while I hadn’t used the words public relations everything I had talked about was absolutely public relations.  It had focused on building and maintaining relationships in order to achieve a specific outcome.  I rarely use the phrase PR because it muddied the water: PR is associated by most, including the majority of people charging customers thousands of dollars every month for the privilege when they provide publicity and promotion services.

It’s the second time this topic had been raised in the last few days.  A friend, Alan Kay, summed it up best when he said, “so what you’re saying is that public relations should be a business strategy NOT a department”.  That’s exactly what I was saying.  Building and maintaining relationships is an integral part of every business and not something that should be outsourced to a third party.  Certainly not a third party whose main purpose is to pitch journalists in the hope of securing media coverage [think about it, do you consider direct email an attempt to build a relationship with you or an irritant that usually guarantees you’ll never do business with the company sending it?!

Back to the three hours spent with my journalist shadow and, I explained, everything I had done was designed to help the entrepreneurs build the relationships they needed to achieve a specific outcome ,if none existed, or strengthen the relevant ones that did.  A failure to do this is one of the most common reasons that marketing [the art of getting somebody to take a desired action] fails.  Without strong relationships in place ‘marketing’ is effectively asking strangers to do something that  benefits your.  Often, the request is also without explaining clearly what the benefit is for them.

I’ve been told, by my peers, that my definition of public relations  – everything a business does to build and maintain relationships with the people that are most important to its success – is too literal; too old-fashioned; too specific. I’ve been told that my explanation of marketing – everything a company does to get people to take an action on your behalf… because they want to – is plain wrong.  I repeatedly have the discussion – usually with my supposed peers – that my assertion that publicity – the communication of information from an organization to as many people as possible – isn’t public relations.

But, think about it.  When we need help in our personal lives – whether to lend us a few dollars for a transit fare because we’ve left our wallets at home, or as entrepreneurs when we need help overcoming a challenge in growing our business – our first call is to somebody we have a relationship with.  Whether a friend, a parter, family member or mentor/advisor – we go to people that are the most likely to help us because we have a long-standing relationship with them.  We don’t stand on the corner of the street with a megaphone imploring strangers to help us because we know it’s an inefficient way to solve a problem.  The chances are slim and we have no way of knowing whether people have the capacity or desire to help.

And yet when it comes to our businesses we do the exact opposite. My industry tells its customers that the best way to achieve a business outcome is to stand on the street corner with a megaphone – physical or digital – shouting at everybody that passes.  Imploring them to do what we want them to do.  Worse, my peers tell entrepreneurs that they’re not equipped to do it themselves and should pay a third-party to do the shouting to implore an intermediary to pass on your message.

Public relations is about building and maintaining relationships with the people that matter most to your organization – and you need to own them.  It needs to be a business strategy that is part of the fabric of your business, not a bolt on department that you pay a third-party to do for you – especially when all you’re getting is somebody with a megaphone!

Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House

What’s the ROI on SXSW investment?

Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House
The Yahoo Yodel House at SXSW 2015

The amount of money spent by companies trying to capture the attention of the tens of thousands of people visiting SXSW this year will run in to many millions of dollars.  The return they are likely to get on it is questionable.  Part of the problem is that most will have set no clear goals; part is that even those that did will not have any way to measure whether or not they have been achieved, let alone quantify the value delivered as a result of their investment.

Let’s take Yahoo! as an example.  I use it because it is one of the bigger names and it had a huge presence at the event, taking over one of Austin’s premier event and live music venues [according to its website], Brazos Hall.  Other similar examples include GE, IBM and VISA.

I visited the Yahoo ‘Yodel’ House a couple of times during my trip to SXSW and they had spared no expense.  There were the standard free drinks, lavish decoration in brand colours [which was changed on a regular basis], an AV set up that most local television stations would be envious of, venue managers, security, bar staff… you get the idea.  On both occasions it was buzzing.

My question is what was the point?  What did Yahoo! get out of it?  The lounge was busy.  People had a good time. They were able to recharge their devices.  They had a few [more] free drinks. My question to them is, SO WHAT?  What’s the tangible benefit?  The return on investment?

My peers would claim that visitors were engaging with the brand. They’ll say the Yodel House created buzz; pictures were shared on Instagram; people were Meerkat-ing [sic]; tweeting; hashtagging… This is often called ’brand awareness’ or brand marketing [it might be awareness, but it’s not marketing] and that’s great, but it is also unquantifiable! It has no tangible value.

I use this not to single out Yahoo! but to illustrate a growing trend.  Companies through huge amounts of money at making on awareness but without considering whether it makes financial sense to do so.  Often there is little thought about what the long-term return will be, let alone the short-term one.

It’s a dangerous trend. Sure, companies like Yahoo! and their ilk can afford it. They have deep pockets.  Some smaller companies have VC money they can “invest”, but the majority don’t.  And, if there is no tangible value then surely the money could be better invested in other things?  Things that are likely to deliver a return. Things that are likely to support the growth of the business – not just brand awareness for its own sake.

How many people that visited the Yahoo! lounge at SXSW will have gone home and changed their default search engine from Google to Yahoo!?  I think you know the answer to that.

Startup and SmallBiz Marketing tip: understand what action you want people to take and focus your time, energy and money on achieving it.  Successful marketing begins with strong relationships built via public relations.

Meerkat has created a monster!

SXSW 2015 will be remembered as the year a monster was created. Make that many monsters.

In the week prior to the annual geek-fest in Austin two words entered common usage amongst twitter users.  The two words that should strike fear in to the heart of every social media professional, [LIVE NOW], followed by the short URL mrk.tv and the hashtag #meerkat

Meerkat, if you missed it, is a tool that allows video to be live-streamed directly in to a twitter feed.  It briefly enabled account holders to notify twitter followers when they were live streaming using the 140-character app’s social graph so that users didn’t need to create a new audience.  That changed shortly after the firm arrived at SXSW, the annual digital and interactive equivalent of spring break held in Austin, TX.

Meerkat is the perfect app for the self-publicist to broadcast every mundane moment of their uninteresting lives to the world.  People streamed everything and anything but, largely, nothing of any note.  Some have streamed pre-stream warm ups where the ‘main event’ was uninteresting and the pre-show stream was a nadir!

I’ve read, and heard, people saying that Meerkat is a game-changer for social and content marketers by allowing ‘brands’ to live stream video in their twitter feed.  But, for all the hype around Meerkat it is just another content creation and syndication tool that requires quality content and an engaged audience.  For all the hype around Meerkat these the two things that most companies struggle with most and until they fix it the app has more potential to annoy and alienate people than it has to engage them.

It’s a bit like giving a jetpack to everybody and telling them it will allow them to travel from anywhere to everywhere – unless you know how to use it it is far more of a danger than it is beneficial.

My suspicion is that, despite the hype, the appeal for twitter users will wear off quickly as audiences tire of viewing the minutia of day-to-day life.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and Marketing tip: Understand what content your audience wants and give it to them.  Don’t invest time and money creating content on every platform – focus on quality.

Blackberry iPhone Switch Deal Shows Nothing Has Changed

B

BlackBerry wants you to think that it has changed.  Its Black Friday deal demonstrates it hasn’t.  It’s bad news for the Waterloo, Ontario based company and is yet another example of how the company continues to get its PR and marketing wrong – to the detriment of the company.

The company is offering iPhone users up to $550 if they switch to a Passport on of after December 1.  The chances of persuading many to ‘trade up’ is slim. iPhone users are unlikely to switch – and $550 incentives is not going to be enough to persuade those that could be swayed to give up their shiny i device.

If BlackBerry had a clear business and communications strategy designed to bring users back to its devices, it would realize that iPhone users are not their target audience. The company should, instead, be offering entrepreneurs and small businesses incentives to choose the BlackBerry passport. These are the people who will get most value from the companies devices.  They are also customers that, once captured, are likely to be long-term and loyal.

Until BlackBerry figures out who its customer is, understands the value it delivers to them, develops a long-term strategic plan to communicate this to them, and build long-term mutually beneficial relationship with them the company will continue to flounder.

Read more about BlackBerry’s Marketing and Public Relations Disaster

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: focus on the people that value what your do, rather than chasing those that don’t.

Why does my content marketing suck? | THINK PR Espresso

I read a piece over the weekend called ‘Why content marketing sucks?‘ and it made me mad. The author makes the point in the piece that content marketing doesn’t suck – she just used the title to get people to read her post.

The irony is that she’s demonstrating, perfectly, the reason that most content marketing sucks. Badly.

The problem is that the action/outcome appears to be to get people to read something, rather than anything that is of value to the individual or business. A link-bait title also sets unrealistic expectations and, invariably, disappoints the reader. How do you feel when somebody wastes your time? How would you feel if somebody hooked you with a sign outside their store offering a 50% discount, only for you to find that once in the store there was no discount, it was simply a tactic to get you in the store?

How likely would you be to do business with a company that operated in that way?

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: If you want to improve the quality and effectiveness of your content marketing don’t chase anybody that is willing to click a link. Focus on the people that are likely to become your customers and provide them with valuable content. You might find that when you ask them to take an action – whether it is to share something, buy something or tell others like them about you – they’ll be far more likely to agree.

Like this? Find 90+ other PR Espressos

 

BlackBerry: the easy part is over. Now the hard work begins.

Blackberry’s stock has rallied in recent days.  Buoyed by John Chen’s announcement that the restructuring of the company is over, many people have started to talk about turnaround and of better days ahead.  The reality is that the restructure was the easy bit.  The hard part – selling devices and in increasing volumes than in recent years – may yet consign the company to the mobile telecommunications history books.  It’s a part of the jigsaw puzzle that the company has been notably poor at in recent years. 

The nadir being had to be the company’s Super Bowl advert that left many scratching their heads at what they had witnessed.

The Blackberry YouTube account shows more than 1.2 million views – some would claim this to be a success because it created ‘buzz’. But when the advert served no valuable purpose it did far more damage than good.

In order for Blackberry to complete the turnaround that Chen now says he
believes is 80:20 in favor of successfully being executed it needs to retain its existing customer base and start to capture those that have in recent years abandoned the company.   That is going to require a PR and marketing campaign the likes of which the company hasn’t seen for at least a decade.  I’d even suggest it would take a campaign to
rival the one credited with turning around a failing Apple Computer in 1998.
 Blackberry needs to beat the master marketer, Steve Jobs, at his own game.

Before you start, I’m not suggesting that Blackberry go after iPhone customers.
 I think to continue down that path would be the death knell for the company.
 What I’m talking about is something that gives Blackberry diehards, and those
that could be tempted back, a reason to buy a new Blackberry over any of an
increasing number of attractive alternatives.  The company needs to be clear about what it stands for – and why people should care.  

In order to do this the company needs first to identify who its audience is and start to rebuild some of the burned bridges with a PR program.  Its value proposition needs to be clear and its message compelling.  It also needs to deliver it in a consistent way across
multiple platforms, both directly and via traditional, online and social media
channels.  This is something that the company has struggled to do, despite it being one of the most important parts of a successful turnaround.

Unless the company can successfully rebuild relationships and deliver marketing that encourages consumers [B2B or B2C] to take action then the company is doomed, no matter what their financial position is.  They’ll be consigned to the lower leagues of the mobile telecommunications marketplace – something they’ve been trying to avoid ever since Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone.

Do you think Blackberry will make it?

Read my continuing analysis of BlackBerry’s turbulent struggle

PR Espresso, THINK PR Espresso, Startup, Smallbiz, PR Strategy

PR is Simple | THINK PR Espresso

Traditional PR programs are full of things that add budget, effort and activity – but it doesn’t have to be that way. I presented at ProductCamp Toronto this weekend and a lot of the conversation was about how to avoid feature-creep – the continued addition of one thing after another for fear of missing something that will make it attractive to customers.

Simple is best, but it requires continual reviews and mental strength to avoid features or, in the case of public relations, marketing and publicity, activities creeping on to the plan that add no real value. Today’s PR Espresso explains how you can start to simplify your PR, marketing and publicity programs today.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: keep it simple, stupid!