Archive for the ‘communications’ Category

Reach Matters – Even In Social Media

“It doesn’t matter how many people you reach; it’s who you reach that matters.”

We hear this kind of statement thrown about all the time in social media circles. The idea is that you don’t need to have a massive following to have influencer or get results. Following closely behind we usually hear something like “if you have three readers and they’re Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Donald Trump, you don’t need anyone else.”

Who are we kidding?

I’m in contrarian mode here, and I’m calling BS. While that kind of reasoning manages to be true to some extent, in practice, in most cases it’s completely false.

True, because it’s theoretically possible that you could have a tiny niche that keeps you in business and powers growth.

False, because in the vast majority of cases that’s just not going to happen (note: I’m talking proactive public relations here, not stakeholder or government relations). Most of us aren’t selling multi-million dollar solutions to a small group of buyers. The theory is sound, but in reality it usually doesn’t work that way.

Trust matters; so do numbers

It’s a harsh truth. It’s comforting to pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that we’re influential. Think about it, though – would TechCrunch be influential without its audience? Would Brogan? Of course, their success didn’t come overnight and they didn’t always have those audiences.  It’s not easy to admit but for most communicators, reach (or audience size) does matter.

  1. In order to get the attention of influencers, you often need a critical mass behind you;
  2. Separate and in parallel to that, the law of averages implies that, over time, the more people you reach the more influential people you will reach.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at your average web traffic then compare it to the last time you got a big mainstream media hit. It’s why I, despite being a social media convert, still argue strongly that mainstream media matters.

The flip side

There is truth to the idea that connecting with influential people can get results.

Right now, I’m in the middle of reading Trust Agents, which revolves around trust and influence. I certainly agree that a person with a highly engaged group of followers on Twitter, for example, will get much better interactions and results than someone who has gamed the system to build a large following.

Still, even within the book the authors admit that Chris Brogan’s reach means that his voice can achieve greater results than those without such an audience. There’s also a bit of a chicken/egg situation – do numbers lead to influence or vice versa?


Of course, a well-crafted communications strategy considers the unique goals of an organization/person before deciding on the approach, meaning  a one-size-fits-all answer to this kind of issue doesn’t really apply. However, most of the conversations to which I’m referring here are based around simple audience metrics – blog readers; Twitter followers.

The rose-tinted glasses situation: a focused, targeted audience of highly engaged and influential people could potentially drive results.

The reality: reach matters.

The ideal solution is probably a trade-off between niche and mass.

What do you think?

Think Media, Not Medium

HeadphonesI just downloaded the audiobook version of Mitch Joel‘s book “Six Pixels of Separation: Everyone Is Connected. Connect Your Business to Everyone.

I bought the hard copy of the book two months ago when it was first released. So why get the audio version too?

Books just don’t work for me any more.

I love books. I have a stack of books in my office and a full bookcase in my home office. I love being able to hold, see, wave-around and annotate the hard copy of something as I consume it. However, I’ve had this book for two months now and am only half-way through.

On the flip side, as I make a concerted effort to live up to my commitment to myself to get back into running I’m finding myself consuming more and more audio content via my iPod Nano.

On the way home from work yesterday, I got through more of the audiobook than I’d consumed in the last two weeks via the hard copy, despite being on vacation.

Communicators: Think beyond one medium

It’s all too easy for us to think in terms of individual communications channels. PR folks do their thing; advertising folks do their thing; maybe the social media folks do theirs too.

That kind of thinking isn’t as effective nowadays, where people are used to consuming information in the way that they want. A ‘book’ doesn’t work for me, but the same content in a different medium is perfect.

As communicators, I think we need to move towards what I think of as a medium-agnostic approach to communications. Part of that is reaching your target audience wherever they inhabit, so each person can consume information in the way in which they choose. So think – are you re-purposing your content wherever you can?

It’s all about making your customers’ lives easier. How are you achieving that?

Image source:, via d-s-n

Mainstream Media Still Matters

It’s easy to jump on the “mainstream media is dead” bandwagon. Journalists are jumping ship, outlets are fragmenting and readership is, in many cases, down. What’s more, it’s what a lot of the “cool kids” are saying so it must be right… right?

But here’s the thing – your local newspaper still probably has higher readership than your corporate blog… and as for tier one outlets, well, you’re probably not even close to their audience size.

Their audience is still bigger than yours

Mitch Joel recently wrote about the conundrum facing newspapers – more and more people say they will go elsewhere if their favourite news site suddenly introduced fees. Beneath the surface though, there’s a useful point for PR folks. As Todd Defren wrote in a separate post yesterday, “Though the news media still struggles to figure out how to make $$$ from journalism, the audience is present and accounted for.”

You catch that? The audience is present. It’s not as targeted as niche communities, but the reach is there (the reach/niche debate is one for another day).

Long term/short term

Social media is at its best long-term. I believe that; you probably do too. Yes, you might get lucky and get immediate attention but let’s face it, that’s not so likely.

As Dave Jones noted on a recent Inside PR podcast, agencies are fond of telling companies not to worry about social media results now; that in a few years they will – without necessarily having any evidence to back that up. See how your CFO or client reacts when you tell him he needs to wait for a couple of years to see the result from the budget he carved out from other marketing programs to give you.

How will you reach people?

You may have the best social media program possible, but if that’s all you have, how will people find out about it? Devoid of an audience, you run the risk of standing alone in a forest and shouting at the trees.

Depending on your company, you may already have an established visitor base for your corporate website. If so, the weight is off slightly but you’re still not off the hook. Search engine optimization is obviously key, but vaulting up to page one of important search terms isn’t usually a short-term endeavour.

Where does that leave us? With the established audiences of mainstream media – whether you’re buying placement through ads or earning it through media relations.

The definition of mainstream media has broadened (we can now count sites like TechCrunch, Mashable, Daily Kos, HuffPo etc as mainstream) but the old channels still matter.

What do you think?

Your Social Media Presence Needs Substance, Not Just Style

“Twitter” isn’t a communications strategy. It isn’t even a social media strategy. As a company, having a Twitter account doesn’t even set you apart from the pack any more.

As social media’s golden-child-of-the-moment heads into the trough of disillusionment, we’re going to see more and more people vocalizing the same thing; Jennifer Leggio said it succinctly today: “I don’t care if your company is on Twitter.”

I’ve argued this for a while, but I’ll argue it again – Twitter (or Facebook, or FriendFeed, or blogging) isn’t a silver bullet for your company.

Plan properly

ToolkitInstead of wondering how best to use Twitter, try wondering:

  • “What are we trying to do?”
  • “Who are we trying to reach?”
  • “How do we best reach those people to achieve those things?”

Sometimes, the answer to those questions won’t include Twitter. Remember – Twitter is just one tool in your social media toolkit, and social media is just one set of tools in your communications toolkit. There are lots of other options.

Have a purpose

Just having a Twitter presence isn’t enough to make you interesting, either. Thousands of companies do nowadays. It doesn’t set you apart. You need substance to your presence, rather than just style.

Look at the companies we often look to as models of how to approach Twitter successfully – each of them uses the tool to accentuate their USP or to add something new to their communications (over-simplifying here to make a point):

  • Zappos uses it to shine a spotlight on their great customer service
  • Molson and Ford solve the problem of being large, potentially faceless brands by putting people and personalities out there
  • Dell uses Twitter to address a perception of poor customer service, while also putting a face on the company (along with sales generation)

These brands aren’t just there because they should be (in fact, they were on Twitter before it was the golden child) – each of them uses it for a purpose.

Stop and think

So, before starting a Twitter initiative, ask yourself:

Are we doing this for the right reason? Is it the right tool for the job?

Your thoughts?

Do People Really Care About PR Disclosure? And Why It Still Matters

Do people really care about disclosure by PR agencies when it comes to activities for their clients?

I don’t mean those of us in the fishbowl or in the PR industry, but the average person on the streets. Do they really care if a company’s representatives are in-house or contracted? Businessman about to reveal identityDo they care if a PR agency (or any other agency) is acting on behalf of a company, if they have the authority to do so?

Does the average person care about disclosure?

Those of us living in the fishbowl (social media and/or public relations) love to discuss the concept of disclosure. I should know – I’ve written about disclosure several times in the past.

A post yesterday from Jason Chupick over a PR agency’s disclosure (or lack thereof) of their role in a video for AT&T, and subsequent tweet by Todd Defren, sparked an interesting conversation on Twitter with Beth Harte, Sonny Gill, Arik Hanson and myself.

Essentially, as Jason’s post put it:

“Last week AT&T responded to criticism about the delays the MMS service for IPhones, as well as the device’s network-hogging tendency by way of a “Seth the Blogger Guy” YouTube video […] Seth is neither a blogger, nor does he work at AT&T. He’s just the face of the team doing the work.”

Our subsequent discussion revolved around whether the average person in the street would care that someone from AT&T’s PR agency starred in the video without disclosure.

My take: if most people in the world don’t have a clue what a PR agency is, or the nature of the client/agency relationship, are they likely to care about disclosure from agencies? Probably not. They’re more likely to care about the quality of the product/service they’re buying or the responsiveness of customer service than about who is speaking on behalf of the company.

Disclosure still matters

As the title of this post suggests, though, I think disclosure by PR agencies is important regardless of the importance the average person puts on it, for three primary reasons:

  1. De-railing your message – whether the average person cares or not, controversy courts the press. There’s no better way to derail your message than to create controversy about the medium.
  2. Industry reputation – controversy over disclosure can haunt you for years. Stories like Wal-Marting Across America or the AllIWantForXmasIsAPSP blog still reverberate around the industry. Is that what you want you or your company to be remembered for?
  3. Ethics – when I finish my work for a day, I want to feel good about it. While lack of disclosure isn’t necessarily the same as deception, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I’m doing best job I can.

On top of these reasons, if I’m right and the average person doesn’t care who’s communicating on behalf of a company, then where’s the downside to disclosing? The main argument for not disclosing tends to be that admitting it’s not the company speaking directly can lessen the effectiveness of the communication. If that’s not the case, then what?

Bottom line: I don’t think most people care about disclosure. The social media/PR echo chamber does, but I’m not sure the concern extends to the broader public. Regardless, though, I think disclosure is still important. We’re firm on disclosing our activities on behalf of clients, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

What do you think?

(Image: Shutterstock)

Interactive or Engaged?

(This is a guest post by Valerie Merahn Simon. For more about Valerie, check out her bio at the end of this post.)

I recently came across a press release about a new social media initiative taken by a large restaurant chain. A highly regarded advertising agency was responsible for the successful initiative, which resulted in a growing Twitter following, significant Facebook fan base, and impressive number of YouTube views. The website now offers a wealth of information on everything from nutritional information to in-store specials and promotions, as well as various sweepstakes. There are interactive quizzes and games. It really did appear that the agency was executing a fully integrated communications effort.

Then I read a blog post by John Bernier, a marketing manager for Best Buy, responsible for leading a team of employees in launching Best Buy’s “Twelpforce,” and realized what was missing. Bernier notes that customer’s must take advantage of social media as an “opportunity to listen to the customer to provide them more of what they need, when they need it, where they want it.

Social Media is not simply an opportunity to pass information along and talk AT the customer, it’s an opportunity to engage and learn from your customers, and the marketplace. While the Best Buy website may not offer much in the way of sweepstakes or promotions, it offers many opportunities to engage and learn from customers; forums, the Geek Blog, IdeaX, ratings and reviews, and, of course the Twelpforce, offer customers the opportunity to make the most of Best Buy. And it allows Best Buy to make the most of its customers.

Advertising is an opportunity to create and communicate a message, to craft exciting and interesting ways to get the public to take note of the brand, in a manner in which the company would like it to be perceived. Public Relations is about developing the conversation between and about companies and the public; building relationships with the employees, customers and other targeted groups.

Social media provides a means for the consumer to voice opinions, and I believe the companies that will find the greatest success will understand the difference between interactive and conversational. While I very much agree that there are many lessons PR can learn about social media from advertising (see Dave’s earlier post ) and acknowledge that the ad agency designed campaign noted above certainly offered the client many benefits, the focus was on the restaurant, not the consumer. For a company to be most effective in its use of social media, it must offer customers the chance to take center stage.

Do you see the difference between customer interaction and engagement? If you were a marketing director, would you hire a PR Agency or an Advertising Agency to help develop and implement your social media strategy?

Valerie Merahn Simon serves as a Senior Vice President at BurrellesLuce media monitoring and measurement, and writes a national public relations column for She is also co-founder and host of #PRStudChat, a monthly twitter chat between PR professionals and students moderated by Deirdre Breakenridge. She can be found on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Five Things PR Folks Can Learn About Social Media From Advertising

Photo symbolizing the divide between public relations and advertisingWe in the public relations industry seem to love to look down upon those on the advertising side of the communications industry when it comes to social media. They don’t get conversation, we tell ourselves smugly. They think in terms of one-way information pushing, not two-way dialogue.

Stop and think for a minute, though. Regardless of the media buy budgets, advertising agencies command big dollars. They land smart, creative people. They execute highly original ideas. They have a voice at a senior level. As much as folks on the PR side might hate to admit it, we can learn from the advertising folks. This is especially true as the different communications disciplines converge.

We’ve recently hired a creative director from the advertising side, and his perspective is breathing new life into our approaches.

So, what can we in PR learn about social media from the advertising side?

1. Scale matters

Relationships are important and conversation is key, but results are king. Successful businesses are built on scale – of sales; of profits; of customers. Advertisers understand that for a consumer-facing product to become a true success, it has to break outside small cliques and niches.

2. Creativity beats staid

As the public relations, marketing and advertising worlds converge, we increasingly find ourselves competing for the same business. This means we need to compete not just for strategic vision and execution, but also for creativity. What’s more, clients will pay for big, creative, results-focused ideas.

3. Measure, measure, measure

If we’re to go head-to-head with other disciplines, we need to measure the heck out of our programs. They certainly do, and they use it to make the case for their programs. This is one lesson I’ve found easy to adopt. I’m a big proponent of measurement and measurable objectives, so I welcome this.

4. Target your audiences

Remember all those ads you didn’t like? They weren’t targeted at you. Good advertisers are laser-like in their targeting as they know you can’t please everyone.

5. Craft your message carefully

I read a great piece the other day (unfortunately I don’t remember where) that said something like:

Good advertising sells product. Great advertising sells the aspiration behind the product.

In PR, we have an additional challenge when it comes to the publicity side – not only do we need (in some cases) to accomplish this, but we need to craft messages that get our clients in the paper in the first place. For, unlike on the advertising side, our coverage is earned with journalists rather than bought.

Rocket science? No. Important? Yes.

What else?

Astroturfing Online Reviews: 3 Reasons It’s A Bad Idea

TechCrunch reported yesterday that they had obtained evidence that a PR firm had “a team of interns to trawl iTunes and other community forums posing as real users, and has them write positive reviews for their client’s applications.”

AstroturfAs a PR professional, this is extremely disheartening to me. I guess on some level we all know this happens, but this is a great reminder that this kind of activity just isn’t acceptable.

Here are three reasons you won’t find me practicing this kind of behaviour:

Risk to the client

Some people in the post’s comments suggested that it’s PR professionals’ job to position their clients in the best way possible through legal means. The implication was that this activity was legal, so it was ok.

I would agree with their definition of a PR pro’s role to an extent, but I add “ethical” to the list of qualifiers. For me, that rules astroturfing out.

I have had clients ask me to write reviews for them, and have refused (and explained the rationale): Because our refusing protects them from featuring in articles like the one on TechCrunch. As a PR professional, I consider exposing a client to the risk of being featured in an article like this to be completely unprofessional. I haven’t had a single person push back after explaining this.

Risk to the PR person/agency

In fact, the risk goes both ways. As the firm involved in this specific instance is no doubt discovering, getting outed for this kind of behaviour isn’t pleasant. I don’t plan on tarnishing my reputation with this kind of activity.

It’s unethical

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I want to go to sleep at night knowing that I’ve done the right thing. Despite some peoples’ perceptions, going into PR doesn’t mean giving up your own ethics. I want to look at my ugly mug in the mirror and feel good about my work.

Remember – not all agencies will do this. As Brits like me (and Aussies) would say, it’s just not cricket.

(Image: Shutterstock)

Why Spam PR Pitches Won’t Go Away

Yesterday morning I received an email pitch. Nothing particularly exciting about that; it wasn’t the first pitch I received yesterday and it certainly wasn’t the last. It wasn’t tailored and it wasn’t addressed to me but it was on topic. I noted that it was for an ebook on social media marketing and set it aside to read properly later.


Very quickly, though, I began to see replies to that pitch. And then more replies. They kept coming. As it turns out, the sender of the pitch had created a mailing list and had emailed that list using the ‘To’ field in the address bar.

Over the next eight hours, I received 27 replies to the original email from people on the list. People who, apparently, like the ‘Reply All’ button (which, I think, should have an “are you sure” prompt when you use it). Emails getting increasingly irate at the original sender. Emails from well-known social media types like Mike Driehorst, Jennifer Leggio, Om Malik and Francine Hardaway.  Emails from reporters at the WSJ, at AdAge, at AP and Newsweek. To make matters worse, everyone began getting copied on support tickets about the removal requests.

Emails after a spam pitch

All told, we received 45 emails over an 8-hour period.

Spray and pray worked

One telling point, however? The first reply in the email chain was from someone who wanted to review the book. So was the fourth, which raised the possibility of a Blog Herald review.

Sadly, spray and pray was getting results. From a short-term perspective, the spammy pitch may have actually worked. It got two responses. Perhaps, were it not for the mailing list disaster, it might have received a few more.

In the long-term, however, the pitch did nothing to impress those of us on the list who viewed it as spam. It built no relationships and it certainly destroyed plenty (numerous people noted they have blacklisted the sender).

This is part of the volume/customization trade-off that PR people face. Some agencies will continue along this path – despite the people they alienate, they will land coverage for their client.

Other agencies (ours included) will choose to take a more targeted approach. We’ll pitch less people, choose our targets and personalize our approaches. We’ll aim for a high return from a smaller number of pitches.

Like it or not, both tailored and spray-and-pray approaches can work. However, one of them builds relationships in the process while the other damages them. I choose the former.

What do you think?

Does Social Media Make PR Agencies Obsolete?

A fascinating discussion arose during Journchat Live in Toronto last night:

Does social media let everyone act as their own PR agency?

No. It doesn’t.

More than publicity

Is it always right to do it yourself?Public relations is much more than just pitching reporters. It’s event organization; it’s issues management; it’s media training; it’s strategic planning; it’s internal communications. In our company we broaden it further to include web property design and development, relationship building, community building, online issues management and more.

Social media does let people conduct some aspects of public relations themselves, such as building relationships with journalists and online influencers, and outreach to those people.

However, public relations isn’t as simple as drafting a release and pitching it. It requires skill and experience. I could become a butcher; a baker; a builder if I wanted to – however it would require years of training for me to do it well. Similarly, you can’t just pick up the reins of public relations and undertake the full suite of functions that the PR department does.

Desktop publishing software let anyone design documents but few people could do it well. Online tools let anyone be a journalist, but only a few sites do that well.

What’s more, anyone can undertake rudimentary public relations efforts through social media, but few people will do them well. Public relations is the outward face of your organization – do you want someone without a thorough knowledge of the nuances and skills of the discipline representing you publicly?

However, that doesn’t mean the status quo remains.

Public relations needs to evolve

Mainstream media dismissed the emergence of online media only to realize later that they had missed a seismic change in their industry. PR also needs to evolve.

As an industry, public relations need to embrace social media tools in order to stay on top of the changes underfoot. As more and more research shows that public relations is a natural fit for social media, we need to make this case to our clients.

We need to blog; to create podcasts; to experiment on Twitter; to produce videos; to build social media sites; to foster online communities. We need to do this so we don’t lose relevancy during these changes; so we can provide integrated solutions to our clients; and so we don’t lose the game to other disciplines and other business functions.

That’s my take. Social media doesn’t mean everyone can do public relations; however, it does mean that we need to up our game to get the best results for our clients, and to separate ourselves from the also-rans.

What do you think?

(Image: Shutterstock)