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.

 

 

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.

 

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!

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.

How to measure ROI on public relations

As the year draws to a close–you’re probably trying to calculate the return on your investment in public relations.

Public relations companies have long struggled to measure the value of what they do. Some cite “awareness” or “engagement” but both are meaningless based on current metrics. Part of the problem is that they’re not selling public relations; part of the problem is that they’re selling something that is reliant on so many unknown variables – there are so many things that traditional PR agencies have no control over. The other problem is that their definition of return is based on an estimated financial value of advertising, rather than the value of the product of their labors.

I read an article recently that talked about how AVE [Advertising Value Equivalent] was outdated and suggested that a better measure of publicity activities should be gAVE [Google Advertising Value Equivalency]. It might be me, but it doesn’t sound much of an evolution – you’re still measuring an estimate of advertising equivalency based on a cost per page impression and using a value defined by a publisher – Google. The problem remains that a gAVE calculation makes assumptions: the most obvious one being whether the audience is the right one for your business but others like whether customers have a need, whether they have purchasing authority or influence in the purchase decision, or that they will be motivated to enough to reach out or click a link to a website to find more information. It also relies on the assumption [often incorrectly] that the reader or website visitor will initiate a conversation.

As entrepreneurs, we’re building businesses around a set of, hopefully validated, assumptions. We know that the problem we’re solving exists and we know who our ideal customer is. Right? So, what if, rather than trying to measure the value of public relations using an abstract like advertising equivalency we measure it on something that we already has value – relationships with the people that will help us grow successful, profitable businesses such as prospects, customers, industry luminaries, purchase influencers, advocates, journalists and investors.

We subconsciously measure relationship strength in our personal lives every day. We know if we’ve annoyed or irritated our spouse or partner, or whether a friendship is strong enough to support a disagreement. Whether we can count on somebody to help us when we need it – no matter what – or whether they’ll make promises but never follow through on them.

What if we measured the strength of our professional relationships in the same way? We could measure the strength of the relationships needed to achieve commercial goals and monitor whether our behaviors strengthened or weakened them. We could identify which relationships were necessary – and the strength of each – to achieve a specific outcome.

Try something with me now. Who are the 6 – 10 people that you need to have relationships with in order to achieve your next milestone? Write them down.

How strong do you need each of those relationships to be in order for you to achieve your desired outcome? Give each of them a rating between 0 and 10 with zero being no existing relationship and 10 meaning you have a relationship with them that you could call them today to ask for their help and they’d do whatever they could to help you.

Now use the same scale to give your relationship with each of the people on the list a value using the same scale. Zero being no relationship at all and 10 being a relationship you could bet your business on. How do they compare?

Chances are that there will be gaps – and that’s OK. It is the function of PR to help strengthen relationships where you need them to be stronger–and maintain the relationships that are where you need them to be. In many cases, to build a relationship with somebody on your list, you’ll need to build relationships with other people that can provide you with credibility, testimonials, social proof and, in some cases, introductions.

The list you have will contain the most important relationships for achieving your next milestone. Revisit and update it every time your goals change to ensure that you’re PR strategy is always focused on building and maintaining relationships with the most important 6 – 10 people for achieving that specific outcome.

Measuring public relations is easy when you know what you should be measuring – it’s all about measuring relationship strength with the people that are critical to the growth and long-term success of your business. When you’re defining the measures of success you want from for your PR activity in 2015, focus on relationship strength with named individuals and ask your PR company or your own team members about how they’ll help you achieve it.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: be clear on what your desired commercial outcome is before you start any public relations, marketing or publicity activity – it’ll make it far easier to measure whether you have delivered it.

This post also appeared on Launchable Magazine http://www.launchablemag.com/?page=post&title=Measuring-PR-Its-All–About-Relationships-Not-Coverage

iFail – Apple’s ‘Historic’ Announcement Will Do Untold Damage

Hyped more than any Apple event that I can remember. Dubbed a ‘Historic Announcement’ by the media. Apple’s iPhone 6/Apple Pay/Apple Watch keynote will do untold damage to the company.  Here’s why.

First, the live stream was a disaster.  I failed to stream from the start; frequently displayed the test page; had simultaneous translation that competed with Tim Cook [on an already quiet audio stream]; returned to the start…  This is not the slick, composed and seamless company with an abnormal attention-to-detail that we’ve become accustomed to.

AppleLive, iWatch, iPhone6, Public Relations, iFail
We interrupt this historic event…

Second, the announcements.  A new iPhone that had been ‘leaked’ by just about every technology publication in the last month. Apple Pay, a contactless payment application [NFC and contactless payment have both been around for more than a decade] and the much anticipated Apple Watch that, well, let’s just say, it’s not pretty and, while it has some nice design tweaks and technology, it’s not exactly historic.  None of the announcements were exactly new [remember Galaxy Gear, Pebble, Android Wear?!]

Three all of the announcements were positioned as being Apple innovations.  Apple’s credibility starts to wear a little thin on this one.  It had a six and a half minute pseudo intellectual video about the iWatch and another [shorter] video about its Activity app.

But, and here is the real problem… Apple hyped this event to the point of calling it historic.  I’ll say it again… Apple claimed the event would include a historic announcement.  While it delivered some nice products to add to its portfolio it failed to deliver anything that could realistically be considered historic.  Not even close.

It’s not the first time. Apple has, in recent years, has been expected to deliver revolutionary new products but has failed.  It’s lost ground to the competition and, given its notoriously strict and predictable release cycle looks set to lose further ground.  This is not good news for the company or its investors.  It does not bode well for future events… how long will people believe the hype? How long will the fanboys and the media supporters be prepared to continue to support a company turning out what are “me-too” products [nice ones, admittedly] but not industry leading or historic.

This could do serious long-term damage to the relationships that Apple has built over the last decade with customers around the world as part of a relentless and meticulous public relations program. Apple has built relationships with customers based on trust – and over-hyping events like it did for today’s keynote will quickly erode it. Why does this matter? It is these relationships that have resulted in hundreds of millions of sales and record share prices.  Today’s event could be the first – and a major – backward step Apple has made in the last decade – likely undermining the trust the company has built in the its claims.

Once  this process starts, it’s almost impossible to recover.

The degree to which Apple is, I’d suggest, as much a victim of the reality distortion field as its loyal customers ever were, was Tim Cook’s claim, ‘Isn’t that the best single you’ve ever heard’ as U2 played. It was alright, but not that good! Certainly not the best I’ve ever heard. I suspect I wasn’t the only one.

[…and before you accuse me of being anti-Apple, this post was written on a Mac!]

Startup and PR marketing and PR tip: when you’re streaming video make sure you have the infrastructure that scales.

What value media coverage? | THINK PR Espresso

The more I read in the media, the more I question the value of media coverage as a way to inform and educate audiences; as a way to start conversations and build relationships.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  understand why you want media coverage and its role in delivering your desired commercial outcome.  If you don’t understand why then you shouldn’t be doing it.

Why Tech Startups Don’t Need ‘PR’

I read a piece by The Houston Business Journal’s Joe Martin this morning called Tech startups: You don’t need PR, exec says.  In it, he says that Uber GM Chris Nakutis told a local group of entrepreneurs they don’t need PR.

In this video I explain why I agree.  Sort of.

Startup and SmallBiz PR & Marketing tip: Don’t mistake PR for publicity and make sure that you own the key relationships for your business – with customers, prospects, journalists and analysts.

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