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.

 

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

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.

What do you really want from public relations?

I received an email today from a partner agency that proclaimed, ‘company X is disappointed they don’t have any coverage yet’.  I replied that I suspected they’d be equally disappointed if they had had coverage but it had had limited commercial impact.

I’d previously asked what the desired outcome was from the coverage. I got no response.  I had asked about the commercial impact of the last set of coverage the company had received [via their work with another agency].  I was told that it was likely minimal.  I’ve tried to offer advice on how to ensure that  this time the coverage actually delivers tangible results. But I keep getting the same response – they just want coverage!

I’ve also suggested that rather than simply sending out a press release, or blind product samples – the samples are the most expensive piece of their current activity [more than the cost of services provided by my company] and asked them to record short videos to personalize their company and the product; to show they care more than simply emailing a promotional press release. But, I’m told, they don’t have time or money for it.

They don’t have 60 seconds to sit in front of a cell phone and record a short video – yet they have money to send product samples to journalists in the hope that they’ll write about  them.  There’s no review guide, no demonstration video, no attempt to stand out.  But, worst of all, there has been no thought given to why they want the coverage – and, as a result, they’ll likely be no commercial value even if they get the coverage they appear to so desperately want.

I wrote about this because its current, but it isn’t an isolated situation.  It was one of the main reasons why I started THINK DIFFERENT [LY] – to help entrepreneurs realize that coverage for its own sake is valueless.  That the tired PR sausage machine doesn’t work any more.  That they should expect more just coverage from their public relations activities than a piece of coverage that, nine times out of 10, has no commercial benefit.  It drains money from their bank accounts – but does little to help refill them.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: When you’re reviewing your public relations activities over the coming weeks and trying to understand why it didn’t deliver the desired commercial value, consider that it is probably because coverage was the only goal.

To find out how to make public relations affordable, accountable and effective for your business contact lyndon@thinkdifferently.ca or call 1. 647.773.2677 today.

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.

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

Public Relations, Marketing and Publicity for Product Managers

The slides I used today at ProductCamp Toronto to explain the difference between PR, marketing and publicity – and how product managers and product marketing managers can better use them.

Startup and SmallBiz PR & marketing tip: public relations is an invaluable tool in product development and product marketing.  It can help you identify key feature, your value propositions and marketing messages and should be an integral part, rather than a bolt-on, to every product launch.

Public Relations, Media Relations, PR Strategy, Public Relations,

Uber’s Chris Nakutis Says Startups Don’t Need PR. I agree [pt 2] | THINK PR Espresso

There’s been a rush of senior executives in tech companies talking about why startups don’t need ‘PR’. I agree!

All too often PR companies sell expensive, cookie-cuttter publicity programs, that are full of stuff that doesn’t serve the needs of an early-stage company.

Startups need help building relationships with the people that will help them grow their business. That requires focus and a model that means they only pay for what they need – not one that has them paying tens of thousands of dollars for what is what I call the ‘Where’s Waldo’ approach.