Things Can Go South On Social Media. Quickly!

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

Earlier today I wrote a post about best practice on social media.  I should have known better!  If you want an example of how quickly perceptions can change on social media, check this out!

Having published my original post I tweeted, “We may disagree about PR but get’s social. You can learn from his example! [cc ]”.  It seems, however, that despite calling Shane out for best practice in social media, he wasn’t happy!  

You can read his tweets below [from the bottom up]. 

Social Media, Public Relations, 'Experts'
Everything can change in 140 characters

Apparently, he was concerned that I had outed his professional background in my piece because I had said he works in social media and, as he had admitted publicly to me on Friday, has no experience in public relations.  This, despite the fact that he’d written a piece that assumed publicity was PR – and that PR was dead.  For anybody that doesn’t understand the industry I work in this is misleading – and, having worked in the profession for 17 years, I feel justified in correcting this common misconception.

Here are my tweets from this morning’s exchange:

Public Relations, PR, Social Media, Publicity, THINK DIFFERENT [LY]Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 1.00.05 PM

If you want to read Friday’s exchanges then you can find them at @THINK_Lyndon

Why am I so passionate about this topic?

Let’s face it, my industry does a good enough job without help from uninformed commentators like Shane adding their misguided opinions that are based on an incorrect definition of what public relations is.  I have spent 17 years trying to help businesses to understand that public relations is not about publicity, but about relationships – despite the industry’s attempts to drive it in to the ground for a quick buck.

Shane, as you can see, disagrees!  He, after all, thinks you don’t need to be a singer to know how to sing! [his words not mine] I’m not qualified to comment on that, as anybody that has heard me caterwauling along to a Radiohead of Depeche Mode track will confirm!  But what I am qualified to talk about than him is public relations – I’m 17 years more qualified that Shane and, despite his claims that he’s open to being corrected, I’m not so sure!

I’m also not convinced that he really understands communication, let alone social, at all.

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Social Media Best Practice | The THINK PR Espresso

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

Read this post, “Things can go wrong in Social. Quickly!” for an update on this post.

At the end of last week I read an article on Technorati by Shane Paul Neil, entitled, “Technology, self-promotion and the death of public relations.  It’s one of many to make this claim recently.  It’s also one of many written by authors that don’t understand public relations – confusing publicity with PR.

Had the article focused on publicity I would have agreed with most of the points that Shane makes.  The fact that it focuses on public relations means that most of his opinions on why he believes PR is dead or dying are wrong.  Just plain wrong.  The problem is that Shane doesn’t have a PR background: he works as a social strategist and while, when I questioned him on Twitter about his experience of public relations, he had the correct definition, his understanding of what that looks like is incorrect.

It’s a problem I’ve written about many times.  The majority of so-called ‘professionals’ working in the PR industry don’t know the difference and have done an excellent job at misinforming customers and complementary industries like marketing and publicity about what it is we do. It’s something I want to change and challenging people that write in, supposedly credible media outlets, when they get it wrong is the first stage.

Technorati, Public Relations, Publicity, Social Media

Having added a comment, which was in ‘moderation’ for almost a day [and which has subsequently been deleted] I took to Twitter.  What were the author’s PR credentials/experience? It turns out I was right – he has none.  But, what happened next is something that every company can learn from.  It’s an example of how to use social media to engage people.

My usual experience of trying to have a conversation about an article – where I have constructive criticism [OK, sometimes the constructive looks a lot like frustrated irritation] – is that I get no response.  Either that or I get a firm rebuttal or the digital equivalent of “f*@! you’ – people usually don’t like being asked to support their position with evidence or experience.  A social ‘conversation I’d had with AirPR earlier in the week was a prime example of this approach. I’d questioned the company’s position that PR is actually customer marketing [it fundamentally misunderstands the difference between PR and marketing]

This was different.

Public Relations, Social Media, Twitter

After an initial back and forth, a conversation broke out.  I went from irritation about the piece to appreciating the opportunity to have the conversation – to make and debate my opinion with Shane. What’s more – rather than trying to make sure that the publication didn’t see my comments, Shane got the Managing Editor at Technorati in on the conversation.  There was talk about a series of views on the topic because the original piece had highlighted passionate responses from a number of people and with a range of differing perspectives.

This is social media as it is supposed to be used. It’s not about publicity – self-or otherwise.  It’s not about broadcasting a message and labelling people that agree friends, while labelling those that don’t trolls.  Social Media’s value is about the discussion; the conversation; the opportunity to change perceptions in real-time. It’s an extension of the owned internet, where organizations and individuals have the opportunity to publish their opinions – and start conversations where all opinions are welcomed [unless you really are a troll!].

Shane showed that, while he doesn’t understand PR, he understands the power of social media as a communications tool.  I started out questioning whether he had anything of value to add to the discussion about the future of communications and found, where social is concerned, he does.  He probably understands more about PR than most ‘PR’ people.

Startup and SmallBiz PR and marketing tip: social media is about conversation.  The tools are just that – tools.  You still need the basic skills required to use them for best effect.

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How do I use storytelling and narrative | PR Espresso

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

Almost every piece I read written by a PR or marketing company talks about narrative and storytelling.  What they don’t tell you is that you have to have an audience that wants to hear it.  You have to find an audience that cares about your story.

The conventional wisdom is that you use narrative to find an audience.  In reality, you have to find your audience and understand that parts of your story – or narrative – they want to hear.

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Is Public Relations Dead?

Public Relations, PR Strategy, PR is Dead

A few weeks ago I read a piece in PR week by former Edelman EMEA CEO Robert Phillips pronouncing that public relations is dead.  It’s something I’ve long said and Robert made some very valid points:

“PR is dead.  Its business model, dominated on the consultancy side by bloated networks selling bureaucracy over transformation and generalists over deep expertise, is broken. Its philosophy – rooted in selling stuff to consumers, rather than addressing societal needs – is exhausted. A transparent world exposes the tired deceits of message management and spin. “

I couldn’t agree more.  The industry’s business model – pay us a large amount of money on the promise of something we can’t measure – is done.  Sure, companies still line up to purchase, but retainer fees are falling – they have been for the last 15 years – and scepticism about the value is at an all time high.  The ‘PR’ process – [it’s actually publicity, but…] of press releases, media pitching, interviews and coverage [if you’re lucky] doesn’t work in the real-time internet world. As for transparency… who knows what their PR company actually does?

Had he stopped here, I’d have agreed wholeheartedly with Robert.  But he didn’t.  He goes on to talk about public leadership; a new, Robert claims, democratic form of communications strategy where everybody has a voice.  He is also co-founder consultancy that offers advisory  and transformation programmes around this new approach.  And, you’ve guessed it, a book that will be published later in the year.  I’m not sold on the new public leadership model and his argument starts to sound more a veiled attempt to disguise old PR tactics in new [Emperor’s?] clothes.

Then, over the weekend, I read a piece by Robert White, principal and founder of PR Matters that details 10 things that PR is NOT.  Dead is not one of them.  I also read Robert’s response to the other Robert’s PR Week article, entitled Why claims that PR is dead are dead wrong.  White makes some interesting points but I found myself disagreeing with many of the points he makes.

He starts by stating that, “In PR, we believe good communication (content) and a great reputation are built upon integrity, transparency, and evidence-based results – and that spin is bad PR, because it has no values or ethics.”

I’m not sure that communication good or bad is synonymous with content.  Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s not.  But this view does reflect the shift by many agencies away from media pitching and towards content.  The number of agencies now offering content marketing has grown significantly in the last year.  If you don’t understand the difference between PR and marketing, which many PR ‘professionals’ don’t, check out my definitions of PR, marketing and publicity for clarity.

Spin is next up for Robert White, offering three reasons why Phillips’ assertion that the industry needs to escape the association with the image of PR as helping to bend the truth is incorrect.  I’m not convinced that any of them stand up to scrutiny.  White states that, “PR professionals hate spin and what it stands for. Any self-respecting PR person, agency, or group will do everything we can to convince management of the dangers and tremendous risks to an organization’s reputation if they do try to spin.” 

Which sounds a bit too much like spin to me. While there are some like White [and Robert Phillips and me] that may consider it bad form, you only have to read the website of a PR company to see how common it is.  Pick any agency’s site that come up in Google organic search results and tell me I’m wrong!

I could go on, but I’ll spare you a blow-by-blow commentary of the two articles. You can read them yourselves and draw your own conclusions.  To use Robert White’s conclusion, quoting Launcelot [Gobbo] in The Merchant of Venice, “the truth will out”.  I agree.  And it may come as a shock to many PR ‘professionals!

White concludes by saying that, “public relations is and always will be an effective channel of communication to make sure this happens.” Of that I’m not convinced. I’m not sure many of the traditional industry’s customers are either – most of the people I talk with think that traditional PR is over-priced, a combination of smoke and mirrors, un-transparent and delivers little tangible value.

To apply one of the frequently-used adages of our industry, ‘perception is reality’ what we think is irrelevant.  If our customers believe it to be true then it is time the industry woke up to it.

For what it’s worth, I think ‘PR’, at least the way that the majority of companies sell it; charge for it; talk about it; define it; and deliver it IS DEAD.  Public Relations professionals that don’t see that remain blissfully unaware of this fact are, I’d argue the walking dead.

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Photo from Flickr User MonsieurCaron                                                      Creative Commons

Context. It’ll Be The Death of Social Media Platforms | The THINK PR Espresso

Public Relations Espresso

As a rookie PR I remember being told by a colleague that the only thing you can control when sending an email is the intention when it’s sent. You can’t control how the recipient interprets what you say. This has stuck with me every since.

It’s the same with public relations, marketing and publicity. You often have no control over how a message, a call to action or a piece of content is perceived by the person receiving it. A lot of the uncontrollable is a result of context. Context has been a recurring theme for me lately, particularly in discussions about social media.

A lack of context means that social and digital platforms have a real disadvantage to some of the more traditional delivery mechanisms used in public relations, marketing and publicity. Is a lack of context meaning your audience is missing something important from your PR, marketing and publicity messages?

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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’

How To Plan For Public Relations Success

Public Relations Espresso

We’re half way through the year and today my advice is that you take a long hard – and most importantly – honest look at your PR, marketing and publicity plans to see whether they are moving you closer to your commercial objectives for the year.

Today’s THINK PR Espresso explains a little more about how to create a plan that will enable you to see quickly and easily whether your PR, marketing and publicity is working.  Tomorrow I’ll explain how to tell if your current plan is working or not.

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Why this ‘PR guy’ agrees with Mark Cuban

Today I was reading a piece on LinkedIn where a PR professional was explaining why he disagreed with Mark Cuban’s assertion that startups should never hire a PR firm.  I found myself agreeing – with Mark Cuban.

The author of the piece I was reading, written recently, was talking about a bullet point in an article published in Entrepreneur magazine more than two years ago. It was called Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups.  He was explaining that PR professionals play a valuable role in helping early-stage businesses to grow.  I agree. In part.  But what he was describing wasn’t public relations it was publicity – media coverage. Awareness. Brand-building.  Call it what you will the majority of the companies that claim to sell PR are actually in the publicity game.  On that basis, I wholeheartedly agree with Mark.

I wrote a piece recently that explains what PR companies don’t tell their prospects or customers.  Over the last few days I’ve become even more convinced that the traditional PR industry is scared to death that you’ll discover these things.  It is the key to their business model and without the illusion of value the industry as we know it quickly unravels.

The author of the piece I read today – I would mention him by name but I can’t find the post again*.  Having viewed it via the LinkedIn app on my phone it updated between leaving the subway and getting on the bus – makes some interesting points about the value of using strategic communications strategists, and I agree with that.  Startups need advice on building the relationships they need to grow their business; they need help in communicating their value proposition, developing messaging, figure out how to deliver it and at the right time for the audience.  But, it’s not what most PR companies offer.

The majority offer, at best, a tactical approach that focuses on pitching journalists [a single audience or public] in order to get the right to talk with every other one of a company’s audiences.  What’s more most PR companies act as a barrier between an organization and journalists, rather than helping their customers to build relationships with journalists or any of an early-stage business’ critical audience groups. Imagine if every conversation you had with the important people in your life used the same ‘strategy’.  Your relationships were managed by a third-party and then had to be approved by another arbiter who decided whether your message would be passed on to the intended audience.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?!  It’s definitely unworkable.

Yet, for this ‘strategy’ they charge exorbitant amounts of money. Every month. And, they ask for a minimum commitment, irrespective of whether the arrangement delivers any value.

This is, I suspect, why Mark Cuban says that startups can do without it.  And it is why this PR guy agrees.

———-

*I spent about 30 minutes looking for it using the information I remembered – the company was called UberStrategy, and the author was called Mario – and still can’t find it. Everything you need to know about the effectiveness of ‘awareness’ -based public relations [or publicity as it should accurately be described] is demonstrated right there. When I type UberStrategy into Google I get results about taxicab industry disruptor Uber’s business strategy.

How To Measure PR Success

Public Relations Espresso

If you believe most PR agencies they’ll tell you that awareness is the key to public relations success.  But awareness without a focus on the right audience, the right message and delivered at the right time via the right channel is meaningless.  So, if you’re not measuring awareness – in the form of page impressions and social media platform shares what should you measure to work out whether your PR activity is working?

Relationships, that’s what.  Think about it, most PR programs are media-focused and agencies guard their journalist contacts as fiercely as they guard your contact details from journalists.  Their perceived value is in the brokerage role they play in securing coverage and if they allow you to build a direct relationship then you don’t need them.  Right?

I’ve written before that public relations is far more than media relations and, the resulting ‘awareness’ that most agencies peddle.  It’s about building and relationships with the people that can help you grow your business; with customers that want to buy – or have a need for –  your product or service.  With influencers that can help people you have no direct relationship with find your business.  With investors that have money to invest in businesses doing what you do.  Very little of that is delivered as the direct result of media coverage.

Awareness and media ‘relationships’ – I describe this as a lease arrangement at best – are a really bad measure of PR success because when you stop paying an agency for their brokerage you often have nothing of tangible benefit.  If you measure public relations on the strength of the relationships you build as a result of your activity – and I mean firm relationships, not fast friends or friends of your agency ‘friends’, then you can calculate whether your public relations activity is helping you move towards commercial outcomes.

There will be my peers that argue that PR is about reputation and trust. And credibility. And authenticity. And awareness.  And, I’d agree.  So long as it is you building relationships based on demonstrating these things, rather than you leasing media relationships based on your agency pitching them on your behalf. Or on journalists being arbiters of your message and the owner of the delivery mechanism.

If you have awareness and coverage but don’t have relationships as a result of your PR activity then we have something different to offer.  Find out more at http://thinkdifferently.ca/

Arianna Huffington Says The Press Release Is Over…

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

… but she hasn’t a clue what she is talking about.

I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago for MarketingProfs where I explained that the reason the PR industry is dying… because too few of its so-called professionals don’t understand what they are talking about. As a result, there are too many commentators that don’t know their PR from their marketing and publicity.  Comments Arianna’s in an Inc magazine interview are the perfect example of what I’m talking about.  That, and my assertion that self-titled ‘experts’ creating content that misleads the, often uninformed, reader.

Arianna says that she thinks that content marketing, ‘or whatever the buzzword of the day…” is a better strategy for small businesses than public relations.  Sorry Arianna, the two are very different things and marketing – content or otherwise – can’t replace public relations.  Public relations is about building mutually beneficial relationships, based on trust and credibility.  Marketing is everything an organization does to get an audience to take action on your behalf.  Marketing is easier if you have the relationships in place.

Whether the press release is dead… it is if it’s done badly – as is the case with the majority that are written and distributed.  If the purpose is clear, the release is carefully written, is delivered to the right audience and using the most appropriate delivery mechanism then it is still a valuable PR and publicity tool.  Whether it is PR or publicity depends on the desired outcome: are you trying to inform [publicity] or build relationships [PR].

The other issue I have with Arianna’s ‘advice’ is that it’s based on her business.  It’s like me telling you that in order to get to a destination – say a Starbucks – you need to turn right outside of your front door, turn left after 50m and then left again.  Walk 500m and you’ll arrive at your destination.  While this works for me, it is unlikely the same ‘strategy’ will work for you.

Content works best for Arianna because her business is in online publishing.  She is able to sell advertising based on the amount of traffic to the site.  For many startups and small businesses page impressions have little or no value.  Content shared is only valuable if it is shared with the right audience – people that are likely and able to become customers, investors, beta-testers or champions.  If they fall outside of the target audience for an early-stage business then content sharing has no commercial value at all.

And, so the final words of caution when listening to advice from somebody that doesn’t understand your business in detail… context is everything.  Beware of generic, broad-brush proclamations – it may not be good advice for your business and is not likely to deliver the results you hope for.

You can get the PR, marketing and publicity advice your business needs today, starting with just a 15-minute introductory session.  After that, you can tailor a program that is customized to your business’s specific PR needs