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  I’ve been told this definition is too literal, too specific, too outdated and too vague, by people who either can’t define it at all or use a combination of buzzwords to do so, or insist that it involves playing middleman between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

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.

 

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?

What’s the ROI on SXSW investment?

Yahoo, Yodel, Yodel House
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.

PR & marketing killed Target in Canada

Target has just announced that its expansion in to Canada will end, with the closure of 133 stores.  Why? A fundamental failure of the company’s marketing.  Target failed to understand the market and, as a result, failed to provide the products Canadian customers wanted, at the right price and failed to promote itself correctly.

I remember my first trip to a Target south of the border in the mid 1990s. It was a revelation.  Living as I did in the UK there was nothing like Target – somewhere you could go to get almost everything at incredibly competitive prices.  Having visited Target stores in the US many times since I moved to Canada in 2010 the experience in my local Canadian store was a very different experience.

Having experienced the US stores, Canadians wanted that same combination of product choice and price that they experienced there, but the company failed to replicate it successfully in Canada. This breach of customer goodwill made Canadian customers think differently about the company.  Combine this with a lack of a clear differentiator between stores like Canadian Tire and Walmart and you have all of the ingredients for failure.

That, in my opinion, is the reason for Target’s failure in Canada.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: business success is based on building and maintaining solid relationships with the people that matter most to achieving it.  Don’t take your customers for granted and be prepared to stick with it for the long haul. If you change the brand experience – a combination of value proposition, core values and customer experience – then you fundamentally change the relationship you have with customers.

BlackBerry’s Biggest Problem: Nobody Cares

I’ve been talking about what I perceive are the reasons for BlackBerry’s demise in recent years.  There’s a long list from product market fit to a failure to grasp the fundamental shifts in consumer tastes; a failure to understand what its customers wanted to abysmal marketing and PR strategies.  But BlackBerry faces its biggest problem yet.  One that no company wants to find itself in.  It is almost always fatal.

*NASDAQ stock price at time of recording was $9. 40

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip:  Stay focused on the value you deliver that nobody else can and reinforce this wherever possible. When nobody cares about your company it’s over.

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

Why Rob Ford’s Media Interviews Were The Wrong Strategy

Rob Ford has spent time today doing one-on-one interviews – and it will only do him harm.  Having said, on Monday, he takes full responsibility for his substance abuse today he said he had been born with a disease that, effectively, was the reason he had said and done things that he has repeatedly denied and, more recently, apologized for.

Having made a statement, slash political campaign speech on Monday after two months in rehab where he failed to answer questions, Ford subsequently invited select media outlets where he preceded to dodge almost every question posed to him.  The problem is that the interviews are now being scrutinized and – as expected – there are also some discrepancies.  These discrepancies create more questions than they answer.  For Ford, this creates a problem.  It creates a credibility problem – and for a man who is trying to regain the trust of Toronto’s electorate it creates a serious problem.

Ford had the perfect opportunity to answer the questions everybody wants answers to on Monday.  He had an opportunity to answer them once and for all.  He had an opportunity to avoid any misunderstandings or discrepancies, nuances or questions that may result from multiple interviews with different media outlets.  But he blew it.

Rob Ford had the chance to explain the situation he is currently in with his drug and alcohol addictions, he had an opportunity to apologize to everybody he has hurt through his actions and words, and to answer any and all questions that need to be answered and put it behind him.  But he didn’t. And, now he’s back in the same situation he has faced for the last 14 months where a lack of clarity or consistency raises more questions that it has answered.

For Rob Ford it was his last chance at redemption – and he blew it.  In a way that only Rob Ford appears able to.

Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’