Brands have an unparalleled opportunity to position themselves via content and storytelling. Content marketing, once the preserve of the PR industry, now forms part of all integrated marketing strategies and the lines of communication are blurring. PR practitioners need to be on top of their game to remain in control of earned media.
Idea Engineers MD, Janice Spark, believes that public relations is in crisis in South Africa. “Somewhere there is a space that says, ‘we need to evolve’, but ‘we’re not sure how’.”
Spark says communication solutions should always be built around the needs of the client, no matter the media channel. And content needs to be shaped around the needs of the brand, no matter the channel.
“PR agencies struggle with social media because you have to talk in a different way, even though the content is the same. It is a tonal thing. If you know your client, your message and audience, the context, then it is the simplest thing to do.
“The PR agency needs to leverage what they have: they have content, they have relationships with media. In the same way you will approach a print publication differently to a radio station, it is the same thing when it comes to social media channels. I don’t see it as being so difficult. Just a case of application. Every PR agency should be able to run a fully fledged social media campaign. Not the tech, but the content. Partnering comes in with the tech.”
Marcus Brewster, chairman of marcusbrewster, agrees that the PR industry needs to totally reinvent itself, form alliances with other specialists in the earned media and below the line media space, and seize the high ground.
“PR has always been the great provider of content. Now in the social media context, content is king and it is all about the best agencies to deliver that content – and content is what PR does well. We understand messaging, positioning and topical content. You can build important digital platforms, but they are going nowhere without content.”
Brewster said PR agencies needed to understand the central role in content generation that is the positioning that PR needs to nudge itself into.
“We do media liaison well, but traditional media is losing its position. Many marketers and brand managers want to see activity in action on social media and the PR industry is very well geared to being able to respond to it,” Brewster reiterates.
Delivering the right solution to the client is what matters, Spark says, not whether it falls under PR, social media or advertising. However, the written media release as a primary means of communication is a thing of the past, Spark believes.
In fact it is Etiket ad agency creative director, Ricardo Rocha, who says that consumers need to make personal connections with brands and that is where great content comes in to create that connection and provide the ‘back story’ in what he terms the ‘face economy’.
“We live in an age of technology; an era that has arguably made our lives more sophisticated. However, technology advancement is also bringing the fight to a faceless monster – the disconnected world where the things we buy and subsequent companies we support are phantoms of commerce.
“We now have the means to care about the people behind the business and want to know more about them. It speaks to our humanity as we find comfort in understanding the context that supports the person behind the product,” says Rocha. “It gives us joy to know there was a degree of love put into the creation of the product we bought. Also, we love the back story as it enables us to add it to our own narrative which is – in itself – unique and interesting. It adds value to our lives.”
The fact is, stories don’t have to be epic, but can be about one element, micro stories. And whether we are in the technology age, the age of the individual, the basics of communications practice still apply: the principles of communications 101; great content and ideas; media relationships; etc. In fact storytelling and media relationships is what should put communications professionals at the top of the industry in the earned media space as this is what they do best.
The rise of the smartphone society means that mobile-friendly content targeted and designed to meet the specific needs of individual preferences is an essential part of strategy. All websites need to be mobile-capable and content needs to be snackable.
Telling stories is at the heart of content marketing and public relations. In its ‘Top TREND.s for PR and Marketing in 2013’, IMTS suggests that not all stories need to be long and involved, “micro stories – little stories that address one point” can be just as effective, for example, in the manufacturing/technology sector: a customer challenge that was solved satisfactorily.
In his ‘7 strategies for developing compelling content in 2013’, Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute says first everyone should watch ‘Content 2020’ from Coca-Cola, in which it details its mission statement in moving the organisation from creative excellence to content excellence.
“Marketing professionals are hungry for any way that they can continue their content marketing journey and attract and retain customers with compelling content,” Pulizzi says.
The first step is to develop an editorial mission or content marketing mission statement in order to then execute a content strategy: “Every person that touches the content marketing program should know, by heart, what the mission of the content strategy is.”
Pulizzi believes brands are not taking their content seriously enough and that a new mindset is needed in order to become the “leading informational provider for your niche”. Mike Silver of Stretch Experimental Marketing, specialises in brand activations targeting the consumer directly – and incidentally, delivering up genuine, authentic, real time consumer brand interaction. However, in many cases, he says brands don’t seed this great content to their social media and PR channels, or don’t involve the digital agency or their communication agency in the strategy.
Pulizzi’s points are: tell stories; define and answer your customers’ questions; involve your employees in content marketing; and the co-creation of content with partners.
Pulizzi advises taking a hard look at your content to see if what you are producing is actually useful for your customers and enriches their lives in some way.
The mobile phone is becoming the primary news resource around the world, driven in part by Twitter which is now the leading source for breaking news in most parts of the world; smartphone penetration; tablet growth; the more mobile lifestyle and work environment; and, most importantly, the ability to drill down in depth consumer segmentation and target the consumer at any time on this 24/7 always on – always on the consumer, device. Research has shown that people would rather leave their wallet at home than their mobile phone.
What needs to happen now is that marketers and PRs need to develop snackable content that is targeted correctly to the right audience and in the right format – it is not enough to merely format media or adverts to appear on mobile. The growth of mobile apps is also providing incredible opportunities for marketers to engage with their consumers.
Retroviral’s Mike Sharman pegs the “holy trinity” for any successful brand campaign as: activation; digital; PR.
He says public relations has become almost “global” relations as influence has become about linked influence. “Ultimately you want your concept to go viral. That is the holy grail. The only way you do that is through having a very good concept which can be seeded out to bloggers and the press. There is so much noise on the internet. You, as a journalist or blogger, are looking for uniqueness every day. It is all about exclusives.”
Kenneth Kracmer, managing partner and PR director, HCK2 Partners in the US, is firm in his assertion that social media is now officially part of the communication mix. “For many, mobile devices serve as a primary vehicle for receiving and sending information. Organizations will need to continue to adapt and learn best practices for properly communicating through these channels in order to reach, engage and educate their audiences.
“The PR function for organizations has long been the driver for consistent, relevant content. Organic SEO strategies, social media vehicles and blogs require a constant flow of information that is audience specific, impactful and thought provoking,” said Kracmer.
Most importantly, Galia Gerbel, MD at Greater Than, believes that PR agencies will in time create their own newsrooms for curating content.
“The PR agency of the future will also embrace the content curation trend because great content and storytelling lies at the heart of what we do. That is why agencies have and always will employ journalists and writers. I believe this will always remain the skill of the PR agency, however the danger lies in these resources not understanding the digital realm. In fact I believe the agency of the future will create their own newsrooms for curating content and therefore will have to employ more writers and journalists who understand the digital world.”
At the heart of this, she says, is telling the clients’ “story” in an engaging way – to reach specific markets/stakeholders.
Glynnis Braithwaite, MD of Protactic Strategic Communications, agrees that social media is earned media: “To create those conversations, we need content from the client.”
Ruth Golembo, Lange 360 managing director, believes that public relations has an edge on other parts of the marketing mix when it comes to the way company and brand information is packaged.
“What PR does for its clients is to connect business (or brands) with all its stakeholders, often through storytelling by providing proof points in engaging ways. It does this by generating content which consumers can share with others either by word of mouth or via social media.”
While the PR skills set began evolving radically from about 1995, Golembo says creative writing and message crafting abilities remain at the top of the list.
“Irrespective of their fields of training (we employ a variety of graduates, from economists to lawyers), ideal PR industry players should be creative thinkers who can best harness existing (or create new) channels to connect with all stakeholders and provide the best ways to create appropriate positive perceptions.
“Old style PR provided communication (from the company via its own media – i.e. website, blog, Twitter or custom published magazine) – and via earned media, but today there is more of an opportunity to blend and create what might look like earned media but is really advertising in another guise (sponsorship/advertorials/brand ambassadors/industry think tanks) all of which can add to creating positive public perceptions and provide credible touch points,” Golembo points out .
Lion’s Wing Brand Communication CEO, Greg Forbes, admits there is a tussle already as to under whose domain earned media and social media falls.
“As we have seen, public relations and digital communications management are starting to do the same things. Digital agencies have seen bloggers as their ownership, but we are saying bloggers fall under earned media/PR.”
The biggest challenge, Golembo believes, is understanding all the new channels available and the best way to measure them – as well as educating clients about the opportunities and threats inherent in the various channels, including social media.
“While social media gives you scale and allows you to drive conversation in a word of mouth marketing way, it’s at its best when it is really earned. This should ideally follow a positive brand experience and genuine excitement in a specific product performance or service. However, by making the consumer your ‘channel’ and allowing them spread your news, it becomes harder to control the message,” Golembo says.
Video killed the PRO
A future disruptor of the PR industry is also video. You hear it everywhere now: “video is the future of the internet”. PROs need to “think multimedia” for every marketing effort undertaken. Multimedia communications is less of a trend, and more of a strategic imperative for communicators, notes PR Newswire.
Ad agencies do this well – every new, big campaign being released, now also has a “making of” video. People want the back story. They want to ‘see’ what they are reading. Visual communications are key as we’ve seen with the rise of services like Instagram and Pinterest.
PR Daily reports: “The rise of infographics, photo sharing, and visual storytelling will push PR pros and their clients to deploy messages visually in order to compete in a crowded content market. All Things D reported that in August, smartphone users spent more time on Instagram than on Twitter for the first time since Instagram launched in 2010. This is indicative of a broader shift toward visual content in the digital space. As the old saying goes, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’; more important, it might also be worth your customer’s attention.”
Press releases with multimedia assets such as photos, videos, downloadable files, apps, can get up to 91.7 times more views than traditional text-only releases according to PR Newswire research. This is the Age of the Infographic after all.
Says Susie Parker from Steamfeed.com: “We are visual creatures and the more (and better) we can help our audience understand our message with eye-catching graphics, the more uptake we will realize in that call to action. These visuals need to support your news release though. Eye catching graphics won’t make up for a poorly written press release because these stunning graphics may never be seen if the accompanying press release is not compelling enough for the editor/writer. Great writing is always in style.”
Social media marketing is not digital PR and understanding the difference is extremely important to ensure the successful implementation of a digital strategy, says Lucinda Boddy, MD of Livewired PR.
“Simply put, digital PR is building presence on the internet and managing online reputation for brands and businesses. This can be done through various means such as social media, websites, blogging, and online media coverage.”
Boddy believes search engine optimisation (SEO) is one of the most effective tools for PROs to use for clients to improve a brand or company’s search visibility.
Ultimately, SEO assists brands to build their online reputation and widen their reach, she says. “The objective of SEO is to improve a brand or company’s search visibility. This is done through the creation of compelling content in the form of press releases, blogs, audio and visual clips, and the like, in which key search words have been strategically included.
“The main objective of social media marketing is to initiate positive interactions with consumers and if possible, influential online personalities. It involves the development of online content that emphasises positive news around the brand, minimising the effect of negative publicity,” Boddy explains.
She includes video, audio and podcasts among a brand’s digital assets, as submitting assets such as these to socially interactive sites only increases your brand’s number of entry points on the web.
She believes that PR needs to evolve into the “principle driver” of a brand’s visual development.
“PR and visual messaging have previously been regarded as completely separate aspects of a brand’s strategy. There’s a reason why data visualisation has become so popular in the business environment. Google, for instance, has established that people are far more likely to click on links that were accompanied by images they trust, which has led to the success of their personalised searches.”
And be your own journalist, says Chirene Campbell, Owlhurst Communications MD : “Take video, sound clips, etc., on your smartphone when you’re with a client to get impromptu interview material which can be uploaded to a dedicated site for journalists to have easy access to. Provide the media with more than one format of information.”
Boddy says the rising influence of visual communication is further evidenced by the increasing use of infographics, as well as the popularity of social media sites like Pinterest and applications such as Instagram.
“Storytelling has always been the most important element of PR – and that will never change – the story is simply going to become a lot more visual. Whether it’s through graphics that accompany presentations, cartoons, illustrations or graphic recording, expect to see a great deal more visual representation in brand communications. The nature of critical business meetings, pitches, and traditional and social media strategies are starting to adapt as infographics are used to engage viewers and help them to assimilate more complicated information, by tapping into their emotional and cognitive responses to images that appeal to them.”
Clients also need to be educated, Campbell says. “In today’s context I believe that the role of PR is exactly the same, but the way in which we communicate has had to change because of the many more engagement platforms available to us. We can’t just rely on a press release – we need to ‘mutlimunicate’ through voice, words, sound, video, pictures, social media, etc.”
What the industry has to get used to, is that there are no longer office hours as social media is a constant stream that needs to be monitored for opportunities for clients, says Campbell.
The media relations card
The biggest card the PR industry holds is that of media relations. It is public relations professionals that have the relationship with the media – not the client, not the ad agency, not the digital agency, not the media agency.
When social media trends towards tabloid journalism, you hold the key to getting credible, independent journalistic opinion, to influencing journalists.
The problem is, that media relations is not nearly as high on PR agendas as it should be. There is still too much spam, too little knowledge of media products and how the media works, too much of the spray and pray approach.
With daily digital media gobbling up press releases because some have too little resources to appoint real journalists and senior content curators, everyone else needs a different angle, an exclusive story – from your daily newspaper to your weekly columnist.
Unfortunately some agencies still think media relations entails updating media lists once every three years and calling up journalists to ask if they received their press releases.
PR Daily believes that the rise of blogging and social media has increased the need for content curation and reputable journalists to counter misinformation and rumour.
The media is still there to provide an independent and objective view of the news, reviews, profiles etc.
What is social media, but distilled real life, that authenticity again that brands need to tap into. To do that of course, you need to be able to reach your audience in the best possible channel. Professional media relationships are key to this.
Public relations practitioners also need to safeguard the democratic media process and freedom of speech by respecting editorial independence and educating clients in this regard. There is a worrying tendancy for corporates and industry organisations to try control the press coverage they receive by threatening to withhold media accreditation to key industry or business events if journalists don’t agree to draconian terms such as “mandatory” attendance at press conferences and the submission of bylined articles and letters from editors as “proof” that they are credible journalists.
Certain travel PROs have been guilty of insisting that coverage is guaranteed before confirming invites to review places of interest.
The South African Editor’s Forum (SANEF) has recently had to tackle several industry bodies and events for example, as regards the media accreditation process and treatment of journalists in covering news events. The public relations industry and brands must realise that they have as much of a responsibility, as the media does, to ensure media independence and integrity. Media independence means news and reporting cannot be dictated to or controlled. Independent comment needs to be respected.
This is where media relations comes in and is so important for the PR industry in building relationships of trust to buffer unrealistic client expectations and, in turn, poor journalism of course.
PR is about more than just generating media coverage – it is about being an agent and representative for clients, Karey Evert, Wired Communications MD, says. “I believe PR is all about messaging… honest, genuine and credible messaging and messaging that can lead to storytelling, events, creative executions of all sorts.”
She would like to see PR agencies not just generating content, but also strategically directing ‘content’ campaigns on behalf of clients.
“I’ve always believed that PR agencies have to sell themselves all the time and now ever more so, it would seem because the demands are higher in tougher economic times.”
Adds PR-Net founder, Brian Berkman: “In eight years, social media has exploded to the point where, from my PR perspective, I value bloggers as highly as other media, provided they are speaking to the people I want to reach.”
So why are PR professionals so slow at building their own media profiles? asks Boddy.
“As PR professionals we are well aware of the world of opportunities that social media platforms have provided, hence the reason why we spend our time encouraging our clients to tweet, blog and post. We research their industries, seek opportunities to establish them as thought leaders and make sure we’re always one step ahead of the pack.
“Browse the websites of almost any PR consultancy and you’re bound to see that it’s not quite as up to date as it should be. Ask a PR professional the last time they spoke at an industry event, or wrote a blog post on PR or even posted examples of their own work – chances are they won’t be able to tell you.”
Boddy questions this and says that creating your own brand and establishing yourself as a voice in the industry is just as important as the job you do for clients and advises drawing up a PR plan for your business much in the same way you would do for clients.
“It’s about outlining your objectives, defining the strategies that will assist you to achieve those objectives, deciding on your tactics and timeline, as well as the way in which you will measure the results. Ultimately, you want a creative strategy that will set you apart from others in your field. The digital revolution and associated rise of social media provides ample opportunities for PR professionals to create a presence for their brands.
Glynnis Braithwaite, however, says the basics of communication are still the same, with digital as a another channel that needs to be integrated into the full service communications offering to clients.
“Advertising is you saying good things about your company – PR is when the media say good things about your company. That hasn’t changed.”
She believes that the media are inundated with too much information and that face-to-face meetings are still the most valuable.
The biggest tool for the earned space is relationships, Sharman agrees.
“We have relationships with the biggest online influencers in the country: bloggers, social media influencers, DJs, even journalists. The important thing is to make friends, but not in a contrived way.”
Working in the social media earned media space you have to be very focussed with your messaging, Sharman says. If you give a campaign the best possible legs, there will be overflow and it will reach the mainstream media.
The social media space is also about investment. “We get so invested in the campaigns that we run that we watch everything people are saying on the campaigns, we are personally invested in how consumers are having their experiences,” adds Sharman.
PUBLIC RELATIONS – MORE EVOLUTIONARY THAN REVOLUTIONARY
Thought leadership provided by report sponsor FleishmanHillard
By Kevin Welman, managing director of FleishmanHillard SA
Our industry is transforming, we have yet to experience a ‘eureka!’ moment worthy of Archimedes’ bath time revelation, however we’ve all noticed an understated, yet sudden shift in the very foundation underlying the strategies and approaches we have grown used to over the years.
Today, defining one’s self or business in terms of the once highly esteemed and respected divide between public relations, advertising and marketing is as archaic an approach as keeping your life’s savings under the mattress or sending a fax to a friend.
The simple truth is that the lines between these disciplines have been irreversibly blurred by the advent of the digital age. Rather than shy away, most of us have embraced this new paradigm as an opportunity to broaden client strategies and reach new audiences in increasingly meaningful ways.
All the excitement in the air has encouraged greater creativity within PR than ever before. With this has come a maturity of sorts; the kind that will inevitably determine the difference between a ‘good’ and ‘great’ understanding of where corporate communications is headed in the years to come.
It’s no longer enough to simply shout ‘we’ve gone digital’ from the rafters while frantically brainstorming a social media strategy in the backroom. Clients have come to expect weighty concepts coupled with deeper iNSIGHTS and a presence that encompasses the full spectrum of the marketing mix.
There is now a very apparent need for agencies to operate throughout the bought, owned and earned media spaces. The digital revolution has given us the tools required to represent client messaging in every area of opportunity, instead of within the exclusive jurisdiction of earned media.
Agencies that fail to integrate both traditional and digital approaches into each of these spaces should expect an unpleasant awakening as the market matures. Those that focus on acquiring new skill sets and developing integrated strategies will reap the rewards time and time again.
We have also witnessed a shift in client expectations around iNSIGHTS and reporting. The real value in entering media spaces previously unknown or forbidden to PR lies in gaining a deeper understanding of the audience.
In the future, those who are best able to combine real analytics with a healthy PR mix will be the kings and queens of the marketing boardroom table.
This means gaining real knowledge of how, why and where the message is landing. Digital channels are just tools to be used to gain a better understanding of how to best position an emerging brand, or reinvent a cold fish.
Our apish ancestors knew that stone utensils were a means to an end. By using innovation to find food, they discovered more about the nature of the element they were interacting with. Emerging offerings within the online space are no different – these encourage conversation and should ultimately act as conduits into the hopes and expectations of those who choose to engage.
These factors also hold significant implications for traditionally focused PR efforts. Social media facilitates access to unfathomable quantities of information in a highly conversational manner. Using these networks to contact and present custom-made material to journalists should now play a significant role in every traditional strategy.
If you are reading this as a PR practitioner, then you are more fortunate that you may realise. Although the changes we are living through may seem overwhelming, and at times intimidating, they are breathing new life into an established and reputable industry.
It’s moments like these when country music artist Paul Brandt’s infamous quote seems more relevant than ever.
“Don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon”.
SEE THE FOURTH AND FINAL PART OF ‘SOCIAL COMMUNICATIONS’ TOMORROW ON: ‘Business ROI’
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