Wednesday, December 10

Why Picking A Fork In The Road Will Doom PR

Public Relations
Twenty years ago, most professionals agreed that public relations could be segmented into three basic disciplines — public relations, media relations, and publicity. All three saw some overlap, with only practitioners and amateurs confusing the terms outright.

Nowadays, it's shaping up to be considerably different. When public relations decided it wanted to "own" social media, it created yet another schism within the industry, with some hoping to define its practices as traditional public relations, advocacy public relations, and social media PR. And it's this split that could eventually doom public relations because none of them resemble public relations.

According to one Forbes column, traditional public relations can be defined as media relations, with the principal endeavor being the pursuit of media mentions in a world with an ever-shrinking pool of news outlets. Advocacy public relations can be defined as the heavy guns, where strategists fund research to support whatever message points were voted on by special interests a week prior. Social PR covers everything from the 19-year-old intern managing Twitter to more lucrative content creation and social network distribution models. And that's it?

All three forks lead to oblivion. Don't pick any of them.

As author Robert Wynne points out, traditional public relations (as defined by the article) has faced a market contraction. Traditional firms that focused primarily on media relations are seeing their monthly retainers shrink as fast the news outlets they once catered to. Some have even made the mistake of accepting "per placement" rates, which only reinforces the pursuit of publicity at all cost.

While it used to be considered a nobler pursuit than writing pitches and press releases exclusively, many advocacy public relations firms have been sucked down the black hole of propaganda. Wynne cites several political spin campaigns, ranging from health care to global warming, whereby organizations invest millions of dollars to prove their points of view rather than find the truth.

The third fork, social media PR, runs accompanied by the myth that anybody can do content marketing and then attempt to sway the masses direct by creating some sort of viral phenomenon online. It was also the cause of many public relations budget cuts. In their desire to "own" social, many firms missed the memo that it meant more work for less money.

If these are the three forks from which public relations professionals can choose, the field might as well fold today. The first is too narrow, relying too heavily on a single public to be effective. The second isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And the third has already been played out, with the next step in online communication being very different than what we know today.

Public relations desperately needs to get back to the business of outcomes.

The real problem with thinking of public relations as being split into three forks is that it misses the point. Public relations is not a process as much as it is a concept. It's fundamental purpose is to transform "us" and "them" into "we" by evaluating trends, making recommendations, forging relationships, and providing for communication that produces mutually beneficial outcomes. 

It doesn't matter how that communication is exchanged — through a news outlet or direct to public. But what does matter is that any content shared is authentic, accurate, and truthful in order to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Anything less isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And anything more tends to compound the challenges that the field has yet to adequately address.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the original three disciplines again.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive media coverage without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to proliferate the public's perception of a subject.

With the original model, all anyone had to remember was that the world view of public relations and publicity was fundamentally different. It otherwise worked fine, even after social media arrived. It also produced more outcomes.

Wednesday, December 3

Social Media Has Grown Up. Maybe Your Marketing Does Too.

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a long list of advice on how to use social media to market an event. Suggestions included arbitrary hashtagslike and comment contests, and keyword bombs.

You get the idea. Someone surfed and scraped up a social media campaign. And who knows? Maybe some of their ideas would have worked a few years ago, given that their punch list read like 2009.

But I had to do something different. The tactics were summarily dismissed for something more strategic, given an impossibly short promotion window of just over two weeks. Along with adding an emphasis to organic offline promotions, the revised campaign delivered approximately 350,000 first round impressions and helped sell out the event. Everyone was happy, especially the sponsors.

None of it was that big of a deal, but it did make me think. Are social media novices that naive? 

Last week, social media fueled protests over Eric Garner, helped kids with with cancer find support from their peers, became a battleground against ISIS extremismcreated a firestorm about free speech, and proved that participants are culpable for what they say online in some countries. None of this is really new, but the cumulative tone marks a lead story maturity that hasn't always existed.

Social media has grown up. And while there will always be a place for silly cat photos and memorable hashtag moments, the balloon popping party your organization has planned for next month doesn't stand much of a chance to win over the top trending news story. To drive attendance, you have to do better than the top ten social gimmicks that most search engine queries will turn up.

Most organizations need to think locally before they ever take aim globally. After all, no one benefits from a global social media campaign that tries to sell out a local balloon pop party. To drive local or regional attendance, the campaign model would have to reach party prospects through various outreach efforts, which may include social but would never be limited to an online environment.

For many events and offerings, social media can be much more powerful as a secondary touch point after introductions are made via mail, email, word of mouth, direct contact, or co-op or partnership solicitations. As such, the campaign objectives can be effectively reverse engineered to worry less about exposure and focus more on reinforcing the value, momentum, and excitement of the event to those individuals who have already been exposed. And then, if the value proposition is proven, they will compound exposure by sharing their intentions to attend and/or all the assets that prove its value.

What kinds of assets help prove a value proposition? 

The trouble with far too many social media campaigns is that companies have been trained to click the boxes or go through the motions to garner results. Grown-up marketing adds value to the event.

• Articles and interviews about the guest speakers who will be present.
• Special demonstrations that highlight the skill sets of the presenters.
• Videos that provide an expose about the event venue or sponsors.
• Event pages where attendees can share their intent to participate.
• Twitter conversations with sponsors, speakers, and other attendees.
• New raffle and giveaway rollouts that add momentum to the offering.
• Sponsor highlights, especially if they can be integrated into the event.
• Event attendance updates that project an expected level of attendance.
• Special pre- and post-event opportunities, such as lunch with the speaker.
• The promise of live event updates and post-event recaps with pictures.

More importantly, all of these ideas provide organizations an opportunity to expand their online assets while creating a lasting legacy of successful event offerings or product launches. After all, nothing builds momentum for the next event like missed event regret — online or offline.

Wednesday, November 26

Thanksgiving Is A Good Day To Be Grateful To Be Alive.

"I did a bad thing and have to confess," read the text. "I snuck one cookie. I just had to have one."

"It's all right," I wrote back. "I made a double batch."

"So how is it possible that they're better and better every time you make them?"

It would take too long to answer that question in a text so I joked about not giving up any secrets. In reality, there are no secrets. My recipe has remained unchanged. It's everything else that is different.

I might mix up my Thanksgiving dessert list a little every year, but chocolate chip cookies have become a first string favorite. The same goes for other holidays and gatherings too. People like them.

As a first string favorite, I make them often enough that I've stopped tinkering with the recipe and started tinkering with everything around the recipe — the consistency of the batter before adding flour, the right size of the cookie ball before it is baked, the best temperature of my particular oven and the right rack to put the pan on, and a dozen other details that would bore most people. All of it matters if you want to make a great cookie. And the only way to do it is to practice making it perfect.

This isn't all that different from what I tell my daughter's softball team as one of the coaches. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. So every time they step up to the plate or set their feet to throw a ball, they strive for perfection  — at warmups, practices, and ball games.

You can't expect to throw someone out at first or pick up a base hit if you slack in practice or goof around during warmups. In fact, it's improper practices that create bad habits and cause poor game performances. And this is so true, it seems, that no practice is better than a bad practice for many players.

The same thing goes for baking cookies too. If you're not willing to strive for a perfect practice, then there isn't any reason to expect better cookies. It's those simple things that make all the difference.

We tend to overlook simple things. But it's the simple things that make for perfect practice. 

In softball, the difference between a hard hit and soft hit can be attributed to something as simple as turning the back foot. With chocolate chip cookies, the difference between good cookies and great ones can be something as subtle as how cold the dough is before you put it in the oven. As a writer, the difference between informing or inspiring is often tied to sentence structure or even word choice.

It applies to anything and everything else too. You can't expect an organized pantry if you fill spaces as opposed to putting things away in their proper places. You can't expect to feel great more days than not if you aren't willing to make physical fitness one of your priorities in life. And you can never truly appreciate anything in life until you learn to be grateful for being alive.

At least that was my takeaway when my family and I celebrated my birthday last week. A friend of mine asked what my big plans might be for my birthday and I told him that I was cleaning out a closet and then cooking dinner — filets, bacon wrapped shrimp, double stuffed potatoes, and peas. He laughed and said that all sounded like a lot of work. Maybe everyone ought to do that for me, he said.

I laughed and joked that I would have to waste a wish when I blew out my candles to make that happen. But no, I don't think so. Birthdays aren't be about being spoiled. That's just icing on the cake.

Sure, five years ago or so I used to think that birthdays were about people spoiling me. Nowadays, I think about birthdays as a day to be grateful to even have a life. And for me, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate having a life than by making a non-functional closet functional again and cooking an indulgent dinner to share with my family. I consider it a perfect practice for a better life.

Sure, there was a cake to enjoy after dinner. Yes, there were some gifts I really appreciated. But the real lesson learned can boiled down into appreciating that everything about a birthday is pretty amazing if you're grateful to even have one. The rest of it is a bonus, kind of like homemade cookies.

So if you really want to know why my cookies are better every time I make them, the reason is pretty simple. I've stopped chasing outcomes and started working toward perfecting practices. And that, more than anything else, has made me more grateful than ever — for my friends, for my family, for the few people who read this post, and for my very life.

Thank you for that and happy Thanksgiving. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, November 19

Word Of Mouth Doesn't Distinguish Between Online And Off

The decade-long era of marketers attempting to distinguish between online and offline word of mouth is over. As consumers have adopted small screen mobile technology and social networking tools, few people make the distinction. Most don't even remember when or where the conversation occurred.

All they remember is that the recommendation came from a friend or family member. The details of its delivery (text or network, phone call or in person) is largely lost to them. All they remember is someone close to them (not an "influencer" based on popularity but an "influencer" based on proximity) had something to say about a particular product, service or solution.

Word of mouth directly accounts for about $6 trillion in consumer spending, online and off.

And it is these conversations, which are personal and person to person, that account for as much as 13 percent of all consumer sales and as much as 20 percent among higher price-point categories. And the division between online and offline conversations just isn't there. It's no longer relevant.

This finding and others were recently published in a study organized by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) in partnership with AT&T, Discovery Communications, Intuit, PepsiCo, and Weight Watchers. The study is based on the econometric modeling of sales and marketing data provided by participating brands (on a confidential basis) and conducted by Analytic Partners.

The results of the study may change the way some marketers think about paid and earned exposure, with about one-third of sales attributable to word-of-mouth conversations acting as an "amplifier" to paid media such as television. In sum, consumers spread advertised messages one-third of the time.

The rest of the impact is independent of advertising and tied to other influencers such as product or customer service experiences, public relations, owned and earned digital content, referral marketing, and related activities. These influencers work in tandem to shape overarching brand perceptions.

Other key findings from the study underpin the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

• Word-of-mouth impressions drive at least 5 times more sales than a paid advertising impression.

• Word-of-mouth impressions for higher price-point items are as much as 100 times more impactful.

• Word of mouth impacts tend to influence consumers closer to the time of purchase over media.

• Word of mouth amplifies the effect of paid media by as much as 15 percent.

"Intuitively, we know that a consumer recommendation is going to be a powerful contributor to brand sales, but this is the first time a rigorous study has quantified that impact across a range of product and service categories," said Suzanne Fanning, president of WOMMA. "We hope this research will lead marketers to elevate the role of word of mouth, both online and offline, in their marketing plans."

This study also reinforces the idea that marketers who are more inclined to communicate a clear contrast between their products and services will be more likely to have a message that consumers are not only able to remember, but can also readily share with friends and family members. And considering that the average consumer can only recall one to three messages about any paticular product or service (not all of which are written by marketers), it had better be something clear and compelling.

Wednesday, November 12

Did Millennials Change Advertising Or Just Roll It Back?

By some estimates, millennials now include about 74.3 million people in the U.S., which accounts for almost 25 percent of the population. They have between $125 and $200 million in purchasing power.

Advertisers are just now beginning to understand that millennials prefer friendly and funny brands over serious and stodgy. Two in three like smart and witty humor and about 72 percent consider being smart as one of their greatest assets. They still self-identify with some brands, but in slightly different ways. 


And if there is any irony to be found in that lineup of four advertising tips for millennials, it's that nothing has changed. Targeting the same age demos in the 1960s and 1970s called for the same four tips.

The shift everyone is talking about in advertising is circular. 

Advertisers of that era made them laugh, made it personal, made it social, and engaged them. And it wasn't until the 1980s that things began to change and brands suddenly became bigger than buyers with product glamour shots outweighing golden era advertisements at about 4 to 1.

The trend continued well into the 1990s and 2000s as advertisements became bigger, freakier, and more increasingly Photoshopped or loaded with special effects that were meant to wow every audience. Most of them got plenty of attention, which is what advertisers want to do, but it came at a cost. 

Some might even say they broke from the old Ogilvy tenet that advertisements ought not attract more attention than a product. He also commissioned research that found images can turn off interest.

The truth is that while most clients want great campaigns that ignite sales and the have the staying power to build a brand, most consumers want honest advertisements that tell them exactly why they might care to even consider the purchase. And if you can make them laugh a little too, even better.

The lesson advertisers must continue to learn here is pretty simple. Much like public relations professionals need to transform "us" and "them" into "we," advertisers need to push beyond attention-grabbing entertainment and create opportunities for millennials and others to participate and be part of whatever the marketer is hoping to achieve. Ergo, it's not about you or your product as much as them. But then again, maybe it never really was about you or your product. Don't be the star. Make some.

Wednesday, November 5

Yes Virgina, There Are Impassioned Objectivists

Anytime I mention "objective journalism," someone contests the concept. They consider it an idealistic pipe dream. They claim that all journalists are biased. And they say it lacks the passion of advocacy journalism. But more than all that, they say objective journalism is dead. Get over it.

Sure, there is some truth to the statement that objective journalism is dead, but we mustn't mistake its current condition as evidence that the idea is boorish, flawed, or impossible. As defined, objective is an individual or individual judgment that is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. And it's a quality that communicators ought not run from.

Objectivity comes with honesty and maturity. Grow up already.

The real problem it seems is that objective journalism allowed itself to be saddled with ideas that have nothing to do with objectivity — traits like fairness, indifference, and perfectness. Specifically, people expect that journalists (especially those who strive to be objective) must listen to both sides, transcend human frailty in hearing them, and then deadpan the facts for the public. But that's not it.

A working definition of objective journalism is more akin to how Iowa State journalism professor Michael Bugeja defined it: “Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were.” The idea is that the communicator is willing to commit to the pursuit of truth, not what they hope is true.

People strive to be objective every day. A manager might like one employee better than another but promote the one with stronger skill sets. A coach might play the more talented player over their own child for the good of the team. A scientist might prove his theory wrong after reviewing empirical evidence. A judge might make a ruling that is right but weighs heavily on his or her heart.

So why would journalists somehow be incapable of striving to be objective (unless they don't want to be) where others have demonstrated the ability to succeed? It seems to me that all it would take is someone becoming impassioned to find the truth rather than promoting their own agenda or whatever agenda they have subscribed to believe. And it's in this passion for truth, rather than propping up fragile brands or frail ideologies, that deserves our respected admiration.

Forget balanced. A journalist might glean insight from different perspectives but truth doesn't take sides. Forget deadpan deliveries. Objectivity doesn't require anyone to feign disinterest in the face of outrage. Forget unconscious bias. The goal was never to transcend being human but merely to develop a consistent method of testing information, considering the evidence, and being self-aware of any personal and cultural bias. And all of these ideas were born out of a need for objectivity.

As as much as I have a fondness for Hunter S. Thompson, who had plenty to say about the objective journalism of his day, the lack of it enslaves us as the only "truth" that prevails is the one uttered with more frequency, more volume, and a more passionate will. And eventually, when the truth is no longer valued in favor of that "truth," it seems to me that we will finally find affirmation media to be an insult to our intellect and own sense of evidence.

Objective communication isn't limited to journalism. Stop saying yes. 

The Pew Research Journalism Project identified nine core principles of journalism, but I've always been partial to the idea that objectivity adheres to empirical standards, coherence standards, and rational debate. Empirical standards consider the evidence. Coherence standards consider how it fits within the greater context. Rational debate includes a diversity of views, but only gives merit to those views capable of meeting empirical and coherence standards.

In much the same way objective journalists strive to look out for the public interest, professional communications — marketers and public relations practitioners — better serve organizations (and the public) by applying objectivity to their situational analysis and measurements of outcomes. The stronger communicator is always the one who is objective as opposed to those who only aim to validate their actions or affirm a client/executive/decision maker's perceptions by saying yes.

Can we ever be certain? The answer is mostly no. While we can tear apart a baby's rattle and see what makes noise inside, we cannot see into the hearts of men and women to guess at their intent before there is any evidence of action. The best we can hope for is that those who have no intention of being objective wear the proclamation on their sleeves while others are given the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. Let the truth lead for a while and see what happens.
 

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