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  I’ve been told this definition is too literal, too specific, too outdated and too vague, by people who either can’t define it at all or use a combination of buzzwords to do so, or insist that it involves playing middleman between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.

 

 

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.

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?

How to tell the difference between a PR company and a publicity firm.

Most PR companies are in the publicity game.  Here’s how to tell the difference.

1. A publicity company offers media pitching as their primary service.  A PR firm helps you build relationships with key people.

2  Publicity firms think content marketing or social media are the future of public relations.  A PR company thinks that building and maintaining relationships is the future of public relations.

3. A publicity company has no idea what the other 3Ps are.  A PR company understands the role of promotion and the importance of relationships in the process.

4. A publicity company has a picture of a megaphone on their website.  A PR company doesn’t.

5. A publicity company sells on the back of their journalist relationships.  A PR company will help you build relationships with journalists and anybody else that is important to the success of your business.

6. A publicity firm talks about engagement but can’t explain what it is or how it will benefit your business.  A PR company can explain the value of you having relationships with the right people.

7. A publicity company can’t actually tell you what the return on your investment in PR will be over and above ‘awareness’.  Awareness is an outcome of publicity.  A PR company can.

For public relations advice that helps your business build and maintain relationships with the most important people to its success call Lyndon on 647-773-3677 or email lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca

Startup Storytelling: how to make people care

When was the last time you read a book where the story started with a product pitch?  How many of the books you’ve read recently, autobiographies aside were about the author?  How many of the autobiographies were of people who had still to achieve something significant in business? I raise these questions because storytelling it was a topic of discussion during a twitter chat organized by Startup Canada as part of its #startupchats series.

The chat was a rarity on social media these days – a civilized exchange of views by people with polar-opposite viewpoints.  Scrap that.  It is a rarity these days. Period. One of the participants was a long-time member of the Toronto Startup scene, Mark Evans.  Mark’s position in the chat was that product is key to good storytelling.  He wrote a blog post about his experience of the chat and asked me to write a piece about my take on the topic because we disagreed so fundamentally on the issue.

In his post, ‘For Startups, What’s More Important: Good Product or Good Story?’Mark poses the question whether it is the product or story that is more important for startups stories. He makes a case for both in his post, but I still disagree with his assessment. While the story is always more important than the product, a story that focuses on the startup, as Mark suggests, is also the wrong approach. I’d also argue that the product is irrelevant if you’re not telling the right story.

Mark makes the point that product rules because a bad product will be found out.  I agree.  But that’s one of the Ps of marketing – not part of the storytelling process [the promotion P].  Marketing doesn’t work without successfully delivering on all four [Product, Price, Place and Promotion] but starting the promotion with ‘I’ve got a good product’ without explaining why anybody should care is unlikely to win friends or influence people – let alone sell things.

When I was a child of the stories I read started with the fabled sentence, ‘once upon a time…’.  Why?  Because it is a vehicle for setting the scene.  It’s a way to provide context; to draw people in to the story. They didn’t start with a product pitch.  None of the stories I remember from my childhood started with a pitch by the author telling me how good they were are storytelling, character development, etc. and none started by telling me they were the Shakespeare of children’s books.

We all know that when we find a good story we can’t help but want to read more. We enjoy the twists and turns; the stories of good vs. bad. So what is the right story?  If it’s not product or a story about your startup, what should the theme of every good startup or small business story be?

The right story is the one that the audience wants to hear.  And, this is where most companies get it wrong.  They’re so busy pitching and telling the world how unique their product is; how they’re going to be the Uber of X, Y and Z, that they forget about the audience and, as a result, they lose them.  Nobody cares about their story.

I read, on a daily basis, supposed content marketing ‘experts’ imploring startups to tell their story.  I hear the same people telling entrepreneurs they have a voice.  But, for startups in particular, the key to telling the story your audience wants to ‘read’ is first understanding the audience.  If you understand the audience you can create story they can relate to.  

In his post, Mark talks about Dollar Shave Club and the video that is widely credited with putting them on the map, called, ‘Our Blades Are F***ing Great’.  The key to that story is the problem faced by men around the world – having to spend ridiculous amounts of money every month on razor blades.  Had their story been about their blades or the company it’s likely nobody would have cared. It’d just be a story about a cheap razor-blade. 

But because the company told a story that showed it understood the problem and positioned its solution in a fun and attention-grabbing way, the company was able to communicate how it solved the problem in a new and innovative way. They didn’t lead with their product or their startup story – they lead with a problem that their audience understood. We all know how it worked out.

So, when you’re starting to write your startup or small business’ next story forget the product pitch and the narcissistic navel-gazing and figure out what story your audience wants to be told.

Startup storytelling tips

  • Write the story your audience wants to hear – not the one you want to tell
  • Your product is useless without an understanding of the value it delivers
  • Nobody cares about your story or your product.  They care that you understand their story and your product can help them write a better one
  • Resist the urge to use storytelling as a veiled product pitch

Learn from some of the greatest corporate storytellers

Nike ‘’Take It To The Next Level

Apple ‘think different

Maserati ‘Strike

Chipotle ‘Back To The Start

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!