This is the future of PR

Much has been written about the future of PR.  My industry has beaten its own brow for years trying to figure out why it doesn’t command a place at the top table. Why it isn’t valued as highly as some of the other communications disciplines. Why it is often the first line item to be cut from budgets when savings are being sought.

The PR industry is either in denial or simply hopes that by asking the question often enough it will eventually convince its customers to give it what it wants.  I have got news for my peers. It won’t!  The future of the public relations industry relies on things changing. Here’s my list.

  • First, it needs a clear definition.   Ask one hundred PR ‘pros’ and you’ll likely get one hundred different definitions. Simply, public relations is about building and maintaining relationships.  I’ve been told this definition is too literal, too specific, too outdated and too vague, by people who either can’t define it at all or use a combination of buzzwords to do so, or insist that it involves playing middleman between customers and journalists.
  • The second thing is that the industry needs a clear value proposition.  This is something that my industry has historically been, at best, poor at.  It could also be accused of dodging the question or spinning it.  The true value a PR specialist can offer is insight and strategic advice, based on experience learned both in school and in practice, to the individual challenges faced by his or her customers.  It is not the arbitrary completion of activities to fit a budget.
  • The third thing that the industry needs to tackle is the retainer fee.  Arbitrarily asking for 5, 10, 15 [and sometimes more] thousand dollars every month is a recipe for failure.  When the minimum contract period is three months it shouldn’t be surprising that most can’t demonstrate return on their customers’ investment.
  • Charging for activity is the fourth thing that the PR industry needs to fix if it is to have any kind of future.  The supposed PR industry leaders are always talking about PR not being given the credit it deserves, but as long as it continues to sell a pre-defined set of activities to every company it works with, assuring them that it will deliver similar value, it has no chance of being taken seriously.  Maintaining this position will only continue to do damage to its credibility.
  • The fifth thing that must change is its current lack of transparency.  It must help customers understand what public relations is all about and their role in using PR successfully as a business strategy. The PR industry must allow customers to see everything it does on their behalf at all times – something it has been loathe to do thus far.
  • The final thing my industry must address in order to have any chance of continuing to prosper is to provide a simple, straightforward framework for measuring the success of its advice.  It’s something I continually hear the industry is working on: the Barcelona principles are, I’m told, proof the industry takes measurement seriously.
  • There are two problems with this argument.  The first is that the principles are now more than 5 years old.  The second is that they focus on replacing advertising equivalency and recognizing the role of social media to PR.  Both of these are, sadly, measuring awareness rather than relationships – the product of publicity, not public relations.

But the PR industry doesn’t want to change.  People like Robert Phillips, former President and CEO, EMEA, of Edelman, the world’s largest PR firm claimed the public relations industry is dead.  I agree.  If not actually dead, it has lost its soul.  Most of the people working in the PR industry are zombies.

I’m tired of hearing the self-serving expressions of intent; the justification of the unjustifiable – the assertion that the future of PR is social media, or content marketing or native advertising – to name just a few.  They make all of the right noises, say the right things to deflect attention from the fact that the PR industry doesn’t want to change.  It quite likes where it is thank you very much.  It gets paid thousands of dollars every month to do who knows what and not explain the value its customers receive.

And so, while others only talk about the future of PR, I have created my vision of the future of the industry.  It provides small businesses and startups with the advice and guidance they need to use public relations to achieve commercial goals – most importantly, when they need it.  It also gives entrepreneurs practical and actionable strategic advice that they can use without the need for a specific communications skill set.

What’s more, I’ve redesigned the fee structure.  There are no retainers. No long-term commitments.  Our customers pay for the strategic advice and guidance they need, not a random set of activities done to justify a retainer fee.   I have also created a new PR framework, based on lean principles, and a simple and easy to understand way to measure outcomes. The future of the PR industry has arrived.

To find out more visit comms.bar.

What is the difference between PR and publicity?

If PR is media coverage, what is publicity?

This is a question I’ve asked both industry peers and customers alike.  While it’s a rhetorical question with customers, I’m always hopeful that somebody in my industry can explain it to me.  Either that, or they’ll realize that what most ‘PR’ firms sell isn’t public relations at all – it’s publicity.

Most of the time my question is met with silence.  It’s an awkward silence when the conversation is face-to-face and when the conversation is online I get no response.

I thought I’d ask it again today.  The topic of the Future of Communications was being discussed at an event in London, England and so I hoped somebody might be able to offer an answer.  I was disappointed, again.  Or perhaps I wasn’t.

The best I got was from John Brown, Hotwire PR’s Head of Engagement [also known as @brownbare on Twitter] – and it was remarkably honest.

John Brown Hotwire PR Publicity

He’s right.  It’s something I’ve long said.  The problem is that publicity, or awareness, is what most PR firms charge thousands of dollars per month to deliver for their customers.  And now John Brown says it has no real purpose, other than excruciating indulgence.

When I suggested PR was about building and maintaining relationships John was equally candid:

John Brown PR Bollocks

He went on to explain, when I cited the PRSA definition, crowdsourced from PR industry ‘pros’ that people where talking about Google + in 2012.  It’s perhaps worth pointing out that some people still are – and I’m one of them.

So, if PR isn’t about relationships and publicity has no value, what exactly is it that most PR and publicity firms do?  What is their value proposition?  How are they justifying their expensive retainer fees?

Ah, I know… they’re content marketers these days! And, it’s all about storytelling and engagement.

 

 

What It Takes To Be A PR Leader

The PRSA is talking about what it takes to be a PR Leader today.  Because I may not be able to participate I thought I would write a short piece on what I think it takes to be a leader in the public relations industry.

There are many who claim to be leaders in my industry; the majority are self-proclaimed or appointed.  The PR industry has lacked a credible leader for many years – probably as many as I have been working in it.  That’s too long.

Leadership in the PR industry involves three core elements:

  • Leadership is about continual improvement
  • Leadership is about setting the benchmark for excellence and helping others to achieve it
  • Leadership is about providing a vision for the future of the industry that benefits both those working in it and our customers.
  • Leadership is also about doing something to move the industry forward

It also requires a fundamental understanding of what public relations is.  You can’t hope to lead if you don’t have a grasp of what the fundamental discipline is or how you measure its impact for customers.

Too many of the supposed leaders of the PR industry are big on vision but short on real actions.  They make proclamations like, ‘the future of PR is content marketing’ and ‘PR should own the marketing function’.  Some claim the value of PR has never been clearer – yet fail to explain simply, and clearly, exactly what it is.

Too many of the supposed leaders of the PR industry are chasing the next cash cow, rather than focusing on how to improve what we, as an industry, do.  They are focused on increasing fees, rather than delivering value.  They are focused on being seen to be a leader, rather than on leading.

There are many pretenders but very few credible candidates.

 

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?

Public Relations, PR Strategy, ROI

What is the value of press coverage? | The THINK PR Espresso

Almost every entrepreneur I meet says that they need media coverage to grow their business. When I ask them why, very few have an answer.

The PR industry sells “awareness” as a solution to almost every business ailment – but it’s simply not true. Media coverage can be a very inefficient, expensive and indirect way to talk to the people that matter most to your business. You’re putting the opportunity to build your businesses most important relationships in the hands of a third party, that has to convince another third party to publish something. You then hope that the people you want to read about your product or service actually see it when the coverage appears.

With traditional media-based publicity – because that’s what it is, not PR – you’re effectively buying a lottery ticket. Let me explain. If we apply the 5% direct marketing rule to publicity look what happens:

The website has 300,000 uniques every month.

5% will see the piece [15,000].

5% of the 15,000 will read it [600]

5% of the 600 will be have a possible need for your product or service [30]

5% of the 30 will have a need right now [1.5]

5% of the 1.5 will… well you get the idea!

With traditional media you had weekly, monthly or, in some cases, quarterly publications – where the magazine sat on their desks for a week, a month or three. Compare that with a refresh rate of one story an hour – or, in the case of the likes of Mashable and other online tech publications, once every 15 minutes. So, not only are you hoping to attract the attention of one and a half prospects with every piece of coverage, the chances they will read your piece is one in forty every week compared to the days of traditional media. The number rises to 1/160 over a month!

So, you’re paying five to ten thousand dollars a month for ‘PR’. Let’s say you’re getting 10 pieces of coverage a month. You’re getting your message in front of 15 prospective customers per month [most B2B businesses would bite your arm off for 15 new qualified leads every month]. Lets say, for the sake of argument, 33% of these make contact with you – that’s 5 leads. Each one has cost you $1,000 if you’re paying $5,000 a month. In PR terms, that’s pretty good ROI. If 20% convert to a customer, you have one new customer for your investment.

But then there’s always the chance that you get nothing from it. Think what you could do if you identified 5 – 10 prospects and spent even $500 on each to capture their attention. $500 a month to start building a relationship with them that increases the chances of them converting to a customer. What if you could spend $500 and figure out how to make sure you delivered the right message to each of these validated customers, at the right time and delivered via the right channel?

In reality, you could spend a lot less and get significantly better results. So, do you still want to play the publicity lottery?

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3 Reasons You Should Copy Apple’s PR But NOT It’s Publicity Strategy

Apple, PR, Public Relations, Publicity
Ed Zitron says you shouldn’t copy Apple’s PR strategy. I disagree.

I read this article by Ed Zitron on the Inc website earlier and tried to comment.  When the comment wouldn’t load for technical reasons [I’m assuming] I thought the comment was worth turning it in to a short blog post.

The point Ed makes is that most  companies shouldn’t try to emulate Apple’s publicity strategy.  Ed calls it PR, but what he is describing is publicity.  Whatever he calls it, I agree.  Apple has a reputation for being media shy until it is ready to talk with the press and for early stage businesses this aloofness is definitely not a way to make friends and influence people.  Another reason I think trying to emulate Apple’s media strategy is wrong is because when the Cupertino-based company has something to announce it always – at least under Steve Jobs – had something worthy of media attention.  I’m not sure the majority of early-stage companies have anything as game-changing as the iPod, iPad, iMac or iPhone with which to tempt the media.

That said, I DO believe that early stage businesses should attempt to emulate Apple’s PR strategy.  Public relations is about building relationships – with the media, customers, prospects, influencers and people that might become customers.  For all it’s reluctance to talk with the media until it was ready, Apple had [and still has] some of the best media relationships of any tech company.  Scratch that… of any company.  

Apple – under Jobs – also had a way of communicating simply.  It understood the power of ‘less is more’ in communicating complex products, services and propositions.  It was an early  adopter of video in its PR – its 1984 and Think Different spots were both exercises in public relations, despite looking suspiciously like adverts.  They were predominantly about communicating values and building relationships, rather than promotion or marketing [getting the audience to take action on its behalf].

The major problem for most companies trying to use Apple’s publicity strategy is that it takes discipline, focus and an awful lot of work.  It requires commitment and patience – and, most importantly, it requires that when you do have something you want coverage for you hit it out of the park.  Apple repeatedly managed to do this with the iMac, iPod, iPhone, Macs and iPad.

Very few other companies – even highly successful ones – will ever come close to emulating what Apple did. Want to know why?  Read Ken Segall’s book Insanely Simple