PR is not ‘free media’

PR and ‘free media’ are never synonymous terms.

The idea that, along with paid media (advertising) and owned media (web and original content) earned media, in particular content written by professional journalists, will somehow simply happen, because the space, screens and airwaves exist, would be laughable if it weren’t so common.

Yet marketers seem to think it’s so – that the media will inevitably carry content, preferably unaltered.

This is partly (mainly?) the result of the rise of social media, which has increased the number of influencers, however defined, to the hundreds of thousands. In that everyone on social media arguably has influence under this definition, you could argue that number runs into the billions – 3.6 billion and rising according to Statista. This number is very much larger than the number of journalists in the world – the Pew Research Center estimates around 88,000 in the US in 2019.

But of course, being able to publis content ourselves misses one essential point: we don’t have to convince anyone to do so.

What’s more, neither is media relations public relations – it’s just one aspect of PR.

In broad terms, PR is about convincing someone of your argument. Coverage, in the context of media relations, is the output of that exercise. Readers, viewers or listeners acting on that coverage is the outcome you seek. The difference between PR and advertising is that you have to convince the intermediary before your message even sees the light of day, let alone that the consumers of the content then do anything as a result. With advertising, you buy the space, and take it from there.

And convincing anyone is a process built fundamentally on a relationship built over time, with some trust involved at some point, and an understanding of the needs of the individual being convinced.

PR practitioners have to convince editors and journalists, or communities, or users, or voters, or any other group of individuals, that their arguments – for clients or employers – carry weight, are relevant, and of some benefit in some way.

For a journalist, this centres on the argument having inherent newsworthiness, and being worthy of explanation and coverage – not quite the same thing.

Broad contexts play their part. Man landing on the Moon is inherently newsworthy, especially the first time it happens. So is COVID-19. Around both sit broader stories, insights, information and data.

But people still need to be convinced.

Which is, I think where the value of PR sits, across all its sub-disciplines.

And why it will never simplistically equate to coverage that has not been paid for. Journalists are a group of people who need to be convinced of an argument. If you convince the journalist to carry the story, you have something arguably worth saying. If my colleague or friend shares my news on social media, the degree of analysis and conviction is probably weaker. Pay someone to do so (one definition of social media influence) and the argument falls over. You’re paying someone to say something nice about you or your product.

Marketers: never fall into the trap of assuming that blank pages or screens are yours to fill, and that what you have to say is inevtiably the most important thing that could possibly fill those gaps.

Instead, work with your PR partners to develop the argument that will convince.

Form a relationship with those you seek to convince.

Be prepared for the long-haul.

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Jack Reacher was right

The only thing I share with Jack Reacher is that I was born in the same UK Midlands city of Coventry as author Lee Child.

We Midlanders know a thing or two about stoicism, and our cultural DNA is about making things work, and getting things done, without too much grumbling. (Coventry was once the engineering capital of the UK, perhaps the world. The modern bicycle, the jet engine, and the mainstream watch industry were all invented there.)

So we can take a slightly-dispassionate view of the Covid-19 pandemic and its current and likely economic fallout, and make pronouncements with some degree of predictability, which is another word for doom.

That’s not to say we’re wrong, though.

Child’s protagonist has two well-worn phrases. The first is “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” Of course this pandemic is unprecedented, probably in 100 years. Yet our entire western capitalist system has evolved since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/19 to create the expectation that predictable, certainly repeated, dividend payments, corporate growth, and, over the long-term, economic growth, are inevitable. What the current crisis has exposed is the lack of “planning for the worst”. It was always there, and Covid-19 has simply accelerated the inevitable. Instead, we plan assuming that bailouts will eventually shore us up, that supply chains built to deliver just-in-time always will, that national IT networks will deliver bandwidth on demand, and that our superannuation funds will always have either high-growth share returns or high-interest cash returns to meet our needs in retirement. We never expected market crashes and nil-interest savings at the same time.

We set great store in our abilities to pivot. I think we’re gyrating right now.

I think, and worry, that the IT sector, in which I’ve worked for decades, is partly to blame, at the visionary level – IT can fix anything, and the prosaic level – IT makes anything possible. It’s led us to real-time trading, where humans have to insert circuit-breakers to stop markets running away with themselves. It’s created the illusion that we might all work at home when manufacturing and logistics still require close human contact. And it’s created inflated valuations that you just heard crashing down. Sure, we’re now at home, it’s just that there’s nothing to deliver.

As a Midlander, I might remind you that real economies are actually built, ultimately, on stuff that you grab with your hands, weather it’s a tin of peas or an aircraft. That toilet you flush, with or without toilet paper, is still made in a factory. Right now, every time we touch anything, we might get ill. And when people die in their thousands, and work at home in their millions, a lot less stuff gets held, is needed, or is manufactured or grown.

Reacher’s other famous phrase is “it’s binary” – either the bullet will kill you, or it won’t, either you’ll get punched in the face first, or you’ll do it to the other fella, we’ll go into a recession or we won’t, we’ll come out stronger from this crisis or we won’t.

I wonder whether we should discard our management tomes and read a few more Jack Reacher thrillers, written by a man from Coventry.

Also published on LinkedIn.

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What a (short) history of social media can teach us about what comes next

Earlier this week, some of the Digivizer team bought their pet dogs to work, in support of a cake-baking fund-raiser for the RSPCA.

The social media team got to work, and so did my internal pun-creation instinct, and I pulled Tara Hunt‘s The Whuffie Factor off the shelf for a pun-tastic photo-op with Samson, Bowie and Sasha.

It’s been a while since I read Tara’s book, published in 2009: at the time it was one of the first books on the then-new concept of social influence, and how to use social media channels to build influence with partners, customers and employees.

I’ve been flicking through the book over the past couple of days since the canine incursion, stopping as my eye falls on words or sentences that grab my attention, and the history of social media is laid out before me. Here are three take-aways from this social media history snapshot from the past 10 years.

Back in 2007 (she writes) Gary Vaynerchuk typed a message just before going on to Conan O’Brien’s TV show in the US. She describes the social media channel used by @GaryVee as “a group SMS or text-message service” – back then, this is how we still described Twitter. He published this particular Tweet in August 2007, just three months after he first joined Twitter, and a little over a year after Jack Dorsey’s inaugural Tweet on 31 March 2006.

I’ve just checked – it’s been a while since any Tweet by Gary Vaynerchuck attracted just 4 Likes!

Tara explains that what Gary was doing was sharing real-time experiences with his Followers, what we now of course call engagement, nurture, and business development through social media. It seems quaint now to consider a world, not that long ago, in which this type of activity – so immediate, measurable and personal – was new.

In other areas, things have changed less than we might imagine. Just a little further on in the book, Tara Hunt outlines a story from 2006 – when Facebook first introduced its first news feed. Here’s how she described this back then (in 2009): “The news feed feature alerts community members on Facebook to nearly everything their friends do… Almost any action I take in Facebook, from the friends I add to the events I plan to attend, is recorded and published on my own news feed as well as that of my friends.” As Tara noted, “this has turned out to be one of the most interesting and popular features of Facebook, but it started out as highly controversial because Facebook decided to launch it without educating users about it.” (My highlights.)

Sound familiar? There’s more. Mashable.com opined that Facebook’s new tools were more invasive than those of other sites. A blogger (unnamed) launched a campaign to get the news feed feature removed, claiming it “damaged what privacy is left on Facebook.”

And Tara Hunt quotes Mark Zukerberg as saying, “We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. ..we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were…I’d like to try to correct those errors now.”

The events of the past two years or so around Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and the associated fallout, are it seems nothing new. Whatever the scale of the backlash was back in 2006, the world – and the billions of Facebook users – moved on. But, I think it’s fair to say, precedents were set early on in Facebook’s corporate history for pushing the envelope, and seeking forgiveness later.

One final social history snippet: Tara reproduces an ad. from Craigslist.com from January 2004, in which the following social networking platforms are listed: Friendster, LinkedIn, Tribe, Orkut, Ryze, Spoke, ZeroDegrees, Ecademy, RealContacts, Ringo, MySpace, Yafro, EveryonesConnected, Friendzy, FriendSurfer, Tickel, Evite, Plaxo, Squiby and WhizSpark. Though some of these platforms have been bought, have morphed, and even remain, only two names stand out, and I’m writing this article on one of them.

Back in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, when Tara Hunt wrote The Whuffie Factor, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter weren’t preeminent – they were burgeoning platforms carving out their place in our futures.

Barack Obama said, in 2016: “The best history doesn’t just sit behind a glass case; it helps us to understand what’s outside the case.” In today’s social and digital world, take a moment to look back, to learn more about how we got here, and where we might go tomorrow.

This article is also published on LinkedIn.

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The 5 Levers To Pull in Every Marketing Campaign

Think of digital marketing as a machine for travelling from where you are now to where you want to be.

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It needs to be serviced, you need a real-time navigation system, you need to know your ultimate destination, and you need to be able to accommodate obstructions, route changes, road closures.

And it can be machine of any size. If you’re a large corporation, by all means use a jet. If you’re a lean startup with few resources, you might use a bicycle. But the principles remain the same. What changes are complexity, costs and resources.

Like any machine there are levers to pull – to allow you to accelerate or change direction, that maximize the returns on the investments you’re making in resources and budget, and to measure the performance of your digital marketing.

And machines need lubrication to ensure they run smoothly, without friction. In digital marketing, this is data – which allows you to move the right levers smoothly, in the right order, with confidence. (If you drive a manual car and try to change gears without moving levers in the right sequence, you’ll know what this sounds like).

Here are the five essential levers in marketing – and how using data makes them easier to pull:

  1. Audience: use data to understand where your audiences are, the conversations they have, and their attitudes towards your company and brand. Use insights from social media to understand the influences on your audiences. Be clear about their different intentions – where they are in their journey from discovery to purchaser, and then to advocate. And use your digital marketing programs to test and refine these early assumptions – and convert them into definitive market intelligence.
  2. Platforms: the beauty of digital marketing is the platform segmentation it offers. The challenge is managing the performance of your marketing across multiple platforms. Start by creating a presence on all the social media accounts to understand the dynamics of your audiences. By all means make assumptions about the role of each platform, and the profiles of those in them – providing you test those assumptions with short-term, low-cost digital marketing programs. Then integrate social with digital to extend and complete the picture.
  3. Creative: As you start pulling your digital marketing levers, you can start to refine and optimize your program. Audience and platforms influence content and how you do your creative work. Each platform should have content optimized for it, with obvious examples being Instagram and YouTube. But content cut-through can differ from program to program, so measure and track content performance within platforms and across platforms to ensure you’re always presenting the messages you seek to communicate in ways that resonate with and engage audiences.
  4. Calls to action: you’ve spent resources and budget to arrive at your destination, and you’ve pulled your digital marketing levers in the right sequence to get there faster. Don’t forget to tell your audience what you want them to do. Give purpose to the journey.
  5. Nurture: Any visit worth the effort demands repeat journeys. Nurture leads through the digital marketing and sales engagement funnel. Once your prospects become customers, continue your engagement with them to turn them into fans and advocates. For example, at Digivizer we have recently started a structured, formal survey of all our clients to ensure we’re delivering on their objectives, that we understand their business, that we’re across new opportunities, and be confident that our pitch and tone with each client are set at the right levels.

As with all machines, more levers deliver more options for faster traction. They also deliver more complexity. These five levers will always kick-start your digital marketing.

This article is also published on LinkedIn. Photo: Image by Gregory Butler/Pixabay.

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How CEOs win hearts, minds and market share using social media

Harvard Business Review recently reminded us that more CEOs are sharing on social media. It cites research by Sprout Social, of 1,000 US consumers, on what they like to read from CEOs.

What’s interesting is that the top-three areas of consumer and customer interest relate to the companies themselves: reasons for business decisions, industry thought-leadership, and insights into companies.

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The debate about whether or not CEOs should make strategic use of social media is closed: it works, and consumers and business partners demand that they do. Even recent social media brain snaps don’t change the argument.

What do the data say? Digivizer works with a number of CEOs and executives, in companies large and small, at different stages in their company histories, on their thought-leadership programmes. Our own analysis of their social media programmes reinforces the argument that CEOs who do social succeed. Being a thought-leader results in incremental reach, influence, and peer-level connections for C-level executives.

And CEOs of large organizations don’t have a monopoly on making a difference: CEOs and founders of smaller companies can too. The principle of CEO engagement and thought-leadership is common to companies of any size.

Rather than simply wonder whether being active works, the challenge is now to understand the returns on the investment in time and resources. Executives are busy, but they and their advisers still need to understand the performance of their digital and social media programs, across paid, owned and earned media, for themselves and their organizations.

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Why Martech Matters & How SMBs Can Use It

If you’re not in the IT sector you may have never heard of Gartner, a global industry analyst firm that makes sense of the IT sector, user trends in IT, and who’s “in” and “out” in the IT space.

When Gartner shines its spotlight on the martech (marketing technology) space (Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2018-19) it’s worth taking a look at what they say.

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Here are five reasons why you should should care about martech and why it’s useful and important for Small-to-Medium Businesses.

The Investment In Martech Is Big

Gartner reports that, although flat, martech represents “a whopping 29% of total marketing expense budgets” – with overall marketing budgets also flat, and labour costs dropping.

In other words, more and more companies are using martech in new, interesting and strategic ways to get their messages into market, to become faster at responding to changes in the market and to changing client needs, to understand and respond to their customers, and to start to make sense of the big data in their organizations.

SMB take-out: at whatever level, use martech to manage your marketing and business development programs. Choose a solution that gives you real-time insights so that you can respond in real-time. Make sure your budgets work as hard as possible for you.

Digital Accounts For One-quarter Of Marketing Spend

According to Gartner, digital covers the full spread of options: paid search (SEM), organic search (SEO), websites and email – and represents one-quarter of all marketing spend

Gartner also notes that marketers and businesses always need to prove the value of marketing techniques and of their investments in them.

Gartner claims it’s difficult to demonstrate the economic impact influencers have on Return On Investment (ROI). We believe you can, by assessing the engagement influencers have, the frequency with which they discuss and share your content, and the size of any direct investment you might choose to make.

SMB take-out: continue to invest in paid search, organic search, and paid and organic social media – in the proportions that deliver the best ROI to your businesses. Use martech to track the performance as you spend – don’t wait until the end of the month or the end of the program. And use martech to understand more about the influencers you should engage with.

Consider The Relative Importance Of Customer Experience, Customer Analytics, Acquisition And Retention

Gartner points out that customer experience (CX), customer loyalty, and customer retention and growth, have dominated recent CMO focus, including on the skills they seek to hire.

For example, CMOs estimate that 18% of their overall marketing budgets are allocated to CX programs, and as Gartner emphasizes, the point of CX is to create business value.

SMB take-out: focus on which of customer experience, analytics, acquisition and retention are your primary focus – and the answer can be “all four”. Then use data to create and roll out your programs, and refine. Ensure you transfer customers from one part of your relationship funnel to the next, as they move from acquisition through to experience and retention.

Awareness, ROI and Market Share

Many CMOs still focus on awareness over ROI, customer value and customer satisfaction.

This is a real surprise when any number of other pieces of research indicate the strategic imperative of CX for CMOs.

We agree with Gartner when they say that it’s important for marketers to measure what matters for both marketing and the business.

SMB take-out: awareness is important, but don’t ignore customer experience and other direct measurements of customer satisfaction. Use martech to set up KPIs that you can track. 

Personalize

Digital allows personalization, and consumers and B2B prospects all prefer personalization. It’s the ultimate manifestation of the mantra, “What’s in it for me?”.

CMOs spend an average of 14.2% of their budget on personalization efforts, and this level of investment applies across most industry sectors, say Gartner.

SMB take-out: use the data you receive as a result of your personalization activities to refine, refresh and revisit what you communicate. If you have the luxury of direct feedback from your customers, act on it.

With martech now firmly established in the armouries of large organizations, and with martech implementations more-sophisticated than ever, it’s time for SMBs to emulate their large competitors. With a platform like Digivizer, they can.

A version of this article is also published at https://digivizer.com/digiverse/.

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