Posts Tagged ‘pr’

15 top tips for a successful PR career

One of the things I enjoy most nowadays is having the opportunity to speak to the future leaders of the PR profession when they’re starting out. One of the questions I often get asked is “what tips would you offer to get ahead in this field?”

Now that spring has sprung (at least, it’s trying to) and students are turning their minds to life after school, I thought it might be timely to offer some of that advice up here.

Here are 15 top tips for success in a public relations career. Funnily enough, I’d give the same advice to someone 10 years into their career, like me, too:

Keen student

Never stop learning.

1. Be a sponge

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it made the PR pro. Whether you’re just starting out or if you’ve been in the business for years, it’s incumbent upon you to constantly learn in order to stay on top of our industry. Never stop being curious.

2. Stay on top of the news

Make time to stay on top of current events. Read a newspaper (online or offline). Set up news alerts for your company and/or your clients. Listen to the radio or to podcasts about industry news. Watch the news in the morning. Whatever approach you choose, it will make you more interesting and it will make you better at your job. Consider it an investment.

3. Focus on details

Nothing hurts the credibility of a pitch, a proposal or a program like sloppy mistakes. Meanwhile, people who become known for outrageous attention to detail become go-to people in a team. Be that person. Read and re-read your work. Be your own devil’s advocate in order to think things through and make sure you’ve covered all of the angles. Double-check your calculations. Question your assumptions.

4. Learn to juggle

This one applies especially to agency folks, but it goes across the board. Learn how to prioritize, how to focus when you need to and how to manage your time. Life in PR is a juggling act, and you need to know how to manage your workload and the expectations of your clients – however you define them.

5. Learn to write

Zombies have crappy grammar.

Zombies have crappy grammar.

Take the time to learn how to write well. Practice. Learn from others. Take a course if you need to (I recommend the eight-step editing course by the Editors’ Association of Canada, but there are many others).

Critically for many new graduates, you may need to unlearn what your professors taught you in university. Short paragraphs, short sentences and clear language help you to convey your point much more easily than the reverse.

Oh, and if you could put “by zombies” at the end of a phrase, it’s passive. Make it active.

6. Embrace numbers

Measurement has been a weak point in the PR profession for a long time. Nowadays, companies demand more. This is especially the case for social and paid media programs. The days of output-focused measurement are numbered, and outcome-focused measurement is on the rise. You don’t need to be an expert in dissecting website traffic (especially if you have a measurement team supporting you), but you should know the basics and know how to coach clients and people within your organization on how to approach measurement effectively.

7. Measure through the lifecycle

Measure throughout the program lifecycle.

Measure throughout the program lifecycle.

Measurement is so much more than reporting, and companies are demanding more from PR measurement nowadays. Know how to take full advantage of the potential that measurement holds throughout a program:

  • Inform your objectives (setting realistic goals, fueled by insights from past programs)
  • Fuel your planning (again, with insights from past work)
  • Identify and help to address issues mid-flight
  • Measure results and generate new insights to fuel future work

(more on this in my  recent presentation on Social Media at Scale that I gave at PodCamp Toronto)

8. Provide solutions

Tough challenges are a fact of life in the PR industry, where the role of communications is often to help to change behaviour or perception. That’s difficult. Few things will endear you to your boss more than this: become the person who comes forward with solutions alongside their problems. It doesn’t have to be the solution they choose (that helps, though), but the fact that you’re thinking it through and considering solutions demonstrates the kind of mindset that managers adore.

9. Learn to stay level-headed

PR pros have to deal with difficult situations come up all the time, many of which can’t be predicted. These are moments where you can distinguish yourself and improve your reputation, or the reverse. Be the person who doesn’t lose their head. Stay calm and focus on solutions (per the earlier point). Remember: frantic doesn’t mean effective.

10. Know what you don’t know

Self-awareness is a valuable trait, regardless of where you are in your career. Be humble enough to know when you’re out of your depth, and to learn from those who have experience in areas you don’t. Whatever you do, make sure that when when you find yourself in that situation you don’t sit, paralyzed, until it’s too late for anyone to help you.

Bonus points for thinking things through ahead of time and coming prepared with a suggestion: “I’m not sure of the best approach here… here’s what I’m thinking… what do you think?”

11. Learn the difference between objectives, strategy and tactics

Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing people confuse objectives, strategy and tactics with each other.

Simply put:

  • Objectives are what you need to accomplish. They should relate to business goals.
  • Strategies are how you plan to accomplish them. They should drive toward the objectives.
  • Tactics are the actions you take. They should funnel up to the strategy.

Learn it. Preach it.

(Read more on how to set better objectives or download my ebook on communications planning for more pointers)

12. Become a trusted advisor

Whether you’re dealing with executives in your company, or with clients at other firms, strive to become a trusted advisor to them. Go beyond what you “have” to do and become a partner. Flag opportunities and threats. Offer strategic opinions. Learn to empathize with them. Have difficult conversations when you need to. Push them to take the right approach (but know when to accept their decision).

Don’t just take orders.

13. Learn from your mistakes

Accept that you’ll make mistakes. We all make them, and they’re a key piece of how we learn and improve.If you don’t make mistakes then you’re not trying hard enough or not trying enough things. The key is to make them at the right time, in the right setting, and to learn from them. Conversely, people who constantly shirk responsibility for mistakes, or make excuses, will never learn.

Some of my most valuable lessons, and most beneficial experiences, have come from making mistakes. They weren’t pleasant at the time, but I learned from them and I’m better for it. What’s important is owning them and figuring out what to do differently next time.

14. Think outside your bubble

It’s easy to get caught-up in your day-to-day routine. Instead, look around and proactively identify ways to expand your expertise. That could be by finding new ways to get better at tasks, or by getting involved in a project that stretches you, or by learning more about a relevant field.

15. Understand converged media

This point began life as “understand social media” but nowadays it’s broader than that. Start with understanding social media – monitor and participate in relevant conversations; think about how your programs might play out in social channels and so on. Social is just the beginning now, though. The key nowadays is understanding how earned, owned and paid media play together. You don’t need to be an expert in all of them, but you do need to understand how to leverage them.

There you have it – 15 tips for success in PR. What would you add to the list?

Blogger relations – you’re doing it wrong

I don’t usually write posts outing other PR folks, but a pitch I received this morning from another PR agency roused my blogging tendencies from their slumber.

Here’s how it read:

From: […]
Sent: Wed, Aug 15, 2012 at 3:02 AM

PR Firm […] Sends Small Businesses to the Top of Social Media for $790 Per Month

On Monday, August 13, [PR agency] announced three new SEO / Social Media / Press Release Packages starting at $790 per month, bringing an affordable solution to businesses needing a strong online presence via Facebook, Twitter, WordPress blog and press releases. The smallest package which includes a number of posts, tweets, articles and press releases each month, costs little more than sending one press release through a service.

To view this release on PRWeb, click the link below:[…]

If you would rather not receive future communications from […], please go to […].

Let’s see…

  1. Pick your audience: If this person had done any research they’ve have known from posts like this or this that I’m not a fan of spray and pray tactics or services. If I’m going to write about something like this, it’s not going to be in a positive way, and I’ll firmly argue that $790 per month will not get you to the “top of social media”. It’s not going to get you to the top of anything, in fact.
  2. Don’t spray and pray: They sprayed and prayed. At least I was in the “to” line, but there was no effort whatsoever to address me personally – even a “Dear Blogger”, which still triggers the “delete” button for me, would be a step up from this. There’s  absolutely no customization, either, or even an effort to do anything beyond copy/paste the first paragraph (I assume – I didn’t click through) of the release.
  3. Offer a call to action: I have no idea what this company wants from me. Do they want me to write about their announcement? Do an interview with a spokesperson? Try it out? Offer a trial? It’s not clear, which means most people will do nothing.
  4. Avoid free email services: The email came from a Gmail account; one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less. You’re a PR agency and your pitches are coming from a Gmail account? And one with the word “guru” in the account name, no less?
  5. Don’t make me opt-out when I didn’t opt-in: How did I make it onto this list of yours? Why do I need to say “no, I don’t want to automatically receive your pitches”? If you were researching and tailoring the emails to me I’d be much more open to it, but signing me up for your automatic spam? No thanks.

This really is the worst kind of PR – the kind that actually makes me angry about people who claim to work in the same space as me. It’s lazy, it’s unprofessional and, if it’s anything like the way this company goes about conducting PR activities for its clients, it’s not a great testimonial for the firm.

Trust in 2012: 4 Implications for Social Media

Edelman recently released the results of its 2012 Trust Barometer survey. Given the events of the last year, it’s hardly surprising that trust is decreasing pretty much across the board.

That is, except in Canada.

Results of the 2012 Canadian Trust Barometer

Today we announced the Canadian results of the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer at an event in Toronto. A few highlights from the Canadian survey:

  • “A person like me” and regular employees both saw the biggest increase in trust in Canadian Barometer history. “A person like me” in particular has re-emerged as one of the four most trusted spokespeople behind academics and technical experts.
  • Trust in social media increased by 175 per cent in Canada, and trust in other online sources rose by 20 per cent. These increases are consistent – but larger – with those in the US.
  • CEOs are now the least credible spokespeople in Canada. While trust in business as an institution remained steady, business is not meeting the public’s expectations when it comes to building trust in companies.
  • Unlike in other countries, trust in media remains steady; in fact it was the only institution to see trust rise in the last year in Canada; possibly partly because the definition of “media” is changing and because the media is beginning to be seen as leaders in breaking news, rather than followers in reporting it.

Implications for Social Media

So what do this year’s results mean for companies in Canada, and those using social media in particular? Here are four social media implications from the results of the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer.

1. Transmedia storytelling is critical

The continuing rise of trust in social media and online sources is a clear signal that companies need to think beyond text when it comes to communicating. However, trust also increased in the Canadian media (and remains higher than other sources) – a signal that proclamations of the end of traditional media were very much premature.

Companies need to consider the complete media cloverleaf – traditional, owned, social and hybrid media, and to use them together effectively in order to communicate effectively.

2. Social media is not the end goal

While trust in social media has increased, and in Canada has more than doubled, it still lags well behind that of other sources. However, trust in “a person like me” is through the roof. There’s a dichotomy here, quite possibly because “social media” means different things to different people – plenty of people think of Twitter as a bunch of people talking about their lunch; I think of it as my industry peers discussing trends (and the occasional LOLcat).

The dichotomy of trust in social media means we can’t think of social for its own sake. Gaining new fans on your Facebook page, or followers of your Twitter account, won’t solve your business problems. Companies with a primary social goal of adding new fans/followers, or of gaining views on a video, are missing the point. To drop a cheesy line, it’s not the size of your community but what you do with it that counts.

3. Use social media as a conduit and a connector

If trust in social media, although on the rise, is still low, what does that mean for us? It means we need to think of it as a conduit rather than a destination.

Just as search engines are a conduit to useful information, social media is a conduit to connecting with other people – both those inside the company (e.g. regular employees) and to “people like you.” As a starting point, stop thinking about social media in the same way you think of traditional marketing campaigns, and start thinking in terms of bringing people together around a common interest. However, that’s just the beginning. What do you do with (and for) them? What do you enable from that point forward?

4. Enable and amplify advocacy

Experts and “people like me” are among the most trusted sources of information. One of the most interesting uses of social media is in enabling and amplifying the advocates of your company. Become the enabler – provide your organization’s fans with the information they need to speak in an informed way about the things they’re passionate about, and provide them with the opportunity to do so. The recent partnership between Bazaarvoice and Buddy Media is a great example of a key piece of this puzzle.

Also posted on the Edelman Canada site.

Two Ways To Quickly Improve Your Communications Plans

I’ve worked in communications for a while now, and one thing I’ve noticed — consistently — is that the same two elements of communications plan get overlooked time and time again:

  • Objectives
  • Strategy

These almost always get sacrificed in favour of the bright, shiny part of the plan: tactics.

What’s more, your objectives and strategy are the most important part of the plan. They’re the part that frames the ultimate goal that you’re trying to achieve, and provides a focus for the tactics that should aim to achieve that goal.

That means that, sadly, most communications programs fail to live up to their true purpose.

I think this failure stems from two primary misunderstandings:

1. People don’t understand the difference between objectives, strategies and tactics.

Simply put, your objective should state what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to sell 30,000 units of something? Increase customer loyalty? Reduce employee turnover? Remember, too, that there are business objectives and communications objectives, and the latter should flow up to the former.

Your strategy defines how you will achieve the objective you just outlined. If you’re looking to sell product, for example, one strategy might look to raise awareness of the product among a key audience. Another option might be to improve its visibility among key purchase-driven search terms.

Your tactics provide the final level of detail in your plan – the granular activities that will drive towards your strategies, and which ultimately fuel the accomplishment of your objective.

Too few people understand the difference between these three areas. If they’re on the client side, they’re the ones who, despite the great program delivered, still ask “but how many media impressions did we get” even if the business results are there for all to see. On the agency side, well, they’re the ones who risk those same clients never having the business results to ignore in the first place.

It’s CRITICAL that people get their heads around this, as these parts of your plan ensure you’re driving at the right result.

2. People focus on shiny.

Lots of people, especially in the communications industry, are highly creative and really enjoy the creative side of things. Let’s face it, brainstorms are fun. Blue sky thinking, a “there’s no such thing as a bad idea” mindset and no consideration of limitations is a nice mindset to have. Unfortunately, I’ve found that that often comes at the expense of strategy – of putting boundaries around creativity to ensure it is pointed in the right direction.

I had a great discussion with a colleague last week after a brainstorm. I commented that we had some great ideas coming out of the session, but that at that point most of them totally diverged from our strategy for the program. Her response (paraphrasing) was: “Agreed. It’s our job to take those ideas, filter them and tweak them so they fit.”

The perfect team combines people with creative strength alongside those with a strategic mindset, so you get the best of both worlds.

Want to improve your planning? Educate your team and your client about the difference between objectives, strategies and tactics, and make sure they’re taken into account when developing your plan.

Newsflash: PR is Not Easy, Cheap or Quick

As I continue to work towards my challenge of reading 26 books in 2011  (an aside: I’m up to 18 right now – two ahead of schedule), I recently finished reading Michael Crichton’s book State Of Fear. Within it, one section got my attention, and neatly illustrates why so many people think PR is cheap and easy.

For context, the following excerpt reflects a discussion on the media relations surrounding a new environmental conference, four days ahead of the first day of the conference (emphasis in the excerpt is mine):

“What’s the time-line of the campaign?”

“It’s a standard starburst launch to bring public awareness to abrupt climate change […] we have our initial press break on Sunday-morning talk shows and in the Sunday newspaper supplements. They’ll be talking about the start of the conference Wednesday and interviewing major photogenic principals […] we’ve given enough lead time to get into all the major weekly newsbooks around the world, Time, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, Paris Match, Oggi, The Economist. All together, fifty news magazines to inform lead opinion makers. We’ve asked for cover stories, accepting banner folds with a graphic. Anything less and they didn’t get us. We expect covers on at least twenty.”


Yes, it’s just a novel (not a particularly good one, frankly) but things like this shape peoples’ perceptions of the PR industry, so I feel compelled to point out a few things for the record:

  1. The world’s top media won’t all cover your brand new conference. It’s a struggle to get attention from even local tier one media in many cases, when travel budgets are low and conferences are a dime a dozen. Twenty cover stories? No chance unless you’re hosting the whole world at your event. In this book, the character notes a little later that they will have 200 TV journalists alone, along with “a number of print media people to carry the word to elite opinion makers, the ones that read but do not watch TV.” Ugh.
  2. You don’t get to dictate how earned media cover you. You can do your best to influence it, but “my way or the highway” is a myth.
  3. Four days lead time is not enough. In the book, the media kit for the conference was still in development, four days ahead of the conference (which, funnily enough, puts the conversation at the same time the coverage was meant to come out… ah, plot holes…). Sorry, you’ve missed a lot of your weeklies.
No wonder clients have such overly high expectations for their PR folks. Of course clients making a 30-minute presentation at a conference will want tier-one media coverage, if their experience of PR is limited to misrepresentation like this.
Again, it’s a novel and Crichton (as far as I know) isn’t representing himself as any kind of PR expert. Still, a little more of a grounding in reality would be nice, no? Or am I just overly sensitive? Maybe I am. There’s a State Of Fear pun here somewhere…
Ok, my blood pressure is dropping again. Moving on…

Criticism is Good

Yesterday I published a post (ok, fine, a rant) about people who sling unconstructive criticism at others and the effect it has.

Several people seemed to take that to mean that I think all criticism is bad, or that we should avoid commenting on other posts. That’s my fault – I buried this line way within the post (as, per the previous paragraph, I was ranting):

“As I’ve said before, criticism can be good. For that to be the case, it needs to be informed and it needs to be constructive.”

My concern is that there’s a big difference between these two statements:

“‘Company X’ did this. I don’t think that was the best move – I might have considered [change A], [change B] or [change C] to make [aspects D, E and F] better.”

“‘Company X’ did this. What a dumb move – who in their right minds would do that? Fail.”

One is constructive; one is unhelpful. One offers useful suggestions; the other tears the organization down. One builds; the other tears down. One makes you look smart and helpful; the other does the opposite.

Happily, the people who read my post and took that meaning from it (again, my bad) chose to do so in a constructive way and made some constructive points in return. For that, I thank you.

Criticism is good. Most people don’t receive enough feedback — the kind that builds and helps them to be better, that is, not the kind that makes an example of them. I know I always strive to receive more, as I know there’s a lot to improve. We just need to get better at both providing and receiving it. The aim of the last post was to let those who aim to knock others down rather than build them up know that that’s not part of the equation.

Make sense?


Armchair Quarterbacks: Don’t Be That Troll

A quick thought (or ten) for anyone who is thinking about armchair-quarterbacking someone else’s PR or social media execution without anything constructive to add…

When you criticize things from the outside, you:

Armchair Quarterback

Don't be this guy.

1. Don’t know what actually happened. You know what you read in blogs, in the papers, etc. You don’t know what actually happened — who said what and to whom.

2. Don’t know what discussions happened internally. You see the reported outcome. You don’t know what conversations happened – between the agency/agencies in question and the company; within the company or among the various stakeholders at the table. Hell, you probably don’t even know who all of those stakeholders and agencies are.

3. Don’t know the context for the decision(s) that were made. You don’t know the competing priorities in play. You don’t know what had been tried before and didn’t work. You don’t know what communications happened behind the scenes.

When you criticize from that starting point and don’t have anything constructive to say, you:

4. Make yourself look uninformed to all parties in question. You don’t impress anyone by taking cheap shots; you just show how little of that context you actually have.

Armchair Quarterback game

Is this how people sit when they come up with this stuff?

5. Make yourself look petty. You’re taking cheap shots. You’re sniping from the sidelines. When was the last time that made someone look good? Oh, that’s right, it didn’t.

6. Set yourself up for a fall. By taking those cheap shots, you set yourself up there on a pedestal, ready for anyone who encountered your critique to take you down next time you screw up. And guess what? Even if you didn’t actually screw up, you don’t have a leg to stand on – that leg is occupied trying to kick others when they’re down.

7. Lose recruitment opportunities. I’ve said many times – PR is a small world. Those people you just alienated might have been potential recruits some day. Don’t worry about it, though – given that you just alienated their client, too, you won’t have too much incremental work to worry about.

8. Lose new business opportunities. I just mentioned it – you don’t just alienate the agency in question; you alienate their client, too, through your misinformed punditry. Say goodbye to being on that shortlist.

9. Damage your own reputation and that of your employer. It’s not just yourself that you hurt with your critique – it’s your employer, too. Yep, just as in so many things nowadays, your actions are tied to that of the company you work for. “These opinions are my own” disclaimer or not, you’re working for that company and the words you say/write are those of someone working for that company. People will draw that line whether you want them to or not (to take it a step further, ask the many people who have lost their jobs after ill-advised comments online).

10. Get me worked up. Ok, that’s not really a big deal, but did you really think I would publish a post with nine points? Yeah, right.


Don't be this guy either.

For the record: As I’ve said before, criticism can be good. For that to be the case, it needs to be informed and it needs to be constructive. It can’t be uninformed, because that leads to you giving criticism that is based on a slice of reality and that does nothing to benefit anyone (including you). And it can’t just be an attack, with no constructive input, because then you’re just a troll.

If you find yourself falling into that trap (and I’ve done it myself in the past), do yourself a favour and cut the company a break.

Make sense?

(Yes, this was sparked by a particular incident. No, it wasn’t about me or about Edelman. Yes, it got me worked up. No, I won’t name the people at fault. Move along…)

(Images via here, here and here)

Startups: No, You Don’t Need To Hire A Social Media Expert

My eye was caught this weekend by a post from Francis Tan, asking whether startups need to hire social media experts. His key points:

  1. First things first: Agreeing with Peter Shankman that startups should focus on generating revenue
  2. Customer satisfaction: Startups need to ensure customer satisfaction when people interact with your company, whether through social media or other means
  3. Align around goals: If you do outsource your social media, make sure they are aligned with your goals
  4. Trade-offs: Ask yourself: do you have time to establish relationships with customers online? On the flip side, are you willing to entrust that task to a third party?
  5. People, not robots: If you do engage online, ensure that you have real people out there rather than automating everything
  6. His conclusion: While it’s not entirely a bad idea to outsource social media, companies might be better off focusing on their product first.

As for what I think, my take is that it’s a little easier than Tan makes it seem although I agree with his conclusion.

Let’s face it – the startup stage isn’t the time in a company lifecycle when resources are flush. You’re not likely to be walking around with a large marketing team; you don’t have big operating budget.

In that context, each dollar needs to deliver maximum return. Why hire someone at a premium when you can bring someone in-house with multiple skill sets – who can drive customer support and handle online support too? Who can handle your PR or marketing and integrate that strategy with your online activities? Hell, you might not even be at the point of investing in outside marketing help yet – why would you consider an even narrower function?

Ok, let’s cut to it. Here’s my take:

  1. Focus on your product/service: Get your product and experience right, first and foremost. If you invest in marketing before your offering is nailed, you’ll just accelerate your failure as more people find out that you suck.
  2. Democratize your social media: My colleague Steve Rubel says social media shouldn’t be 100% of one person’s job; it should be 1% of 100 peoples’ jobs. Democratize the responsibility throughout your team.
  3. Hire broad: If you do decide that the time is right to bring in a social media skill set into the team, make it part of a broader role – communications, marketing, support or similar. Specialization comes with scale — don’t pigeon-hole people into one narrow role when you need everyone to lend a hand broadly.
  4. The exception: online startups? Companies based online (or in social media), by their nature, on aggregate are going to focus more on online interactions than other companies. Still, I suspect that they will still get more mileage from investing in in-house experience, at least at a startup stage.
  5. Don’t fall for snake oil: For the love of all things holy, if you do decide to outsource your efforts then pay attention to who you work with. This is where I agree with Shankman – hire communicators or marketers who understand how social media fits into a broader approach. Don’t hire people who tell you Twitter will solve all your problems. They’re wrong, and whether it’s a deliberate lie or a lack of knowledge really doesn’t matter.
  6. Know agencies’ strengths: Agencies bring numerous several key strengths — a broad array of skills, ideas and experience; an ability to scale up and down  rapidly; existing relationships in the industry;(potentially, depending on the agency) geographic reach and so on. Play to those strengths and use them when you need them, but not before. Need a little bit of time, but not a full-time role? Need something executed in the short-term? That’s your time for outside help; not the start-up day-to-day.

There you have it. From my perspective, while you may want to engage online, I think hiring or outsourcing a “social media expert” in a startup is the wrong way to go — you’re better off focusing on your product/service, democratizing your digital efforts and hiring broad communications skills when the time is right.

I’m not a startup guy though, so my take is just an (un?)informed guess. If you come from the startup side, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

(Image: Flickr, via Peter Shankman)

Is Share of Voice a Useless PR Metric?

This is a guest post by my Edelman colleague Rob Clark

Sometimes you say a word too many times in a row and the word slowly begins to lose meaning for yourself. It becomes foreign gibberish and you begin to wonder if you’re pronouncing this thing correctly or if it was ever really a word at all. Which is all to say that I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to share of voice (SOV) and I may have passed the threshold where it ceases to hold meaning.

Why do we measure?

We measure because there is a decision we have to make and we are lacking the data needed to take action. So I would like to ask what information does share of voice provide the PR practitioner that guides an action?

In marketing – where all is a funnel down from eyeballs to wallets and the space and time is finite – SOV provides insight into whether your message is drowned by the competition’s. But the real strategic advantage comes in that the cost of the ad space is a known quantity. Knowing what your competitor’s SOV in a market is, let’s you know what kind of resources they are pushing forth. You know which of their products is getting the thrust and in what markets. It shows you some of the cards they have on the table.

But in PR we don’t buy coverage by the pound. We can’t translate ink on the page (or pixels on the screen) into dollars spent on PR. So that set of data is lost to us from a SOV measure.

Editorial – though not infinite – is open to expand and contract. Your amount of coverage can remain consistent but your share contract tremendously as a flurry of write ups about your competitor come out. Let’s say that our client is Widget co. (makers of fine hypothetical examples since 1912). Widget co has a 20% SOV and their nearest competitor has 30%. The following month Widget co is at 18% and their rival at 37%. What decision will this info drive? What action is needed?

Everyone’s natural inclination is to demand more output. More ink. They have more and we have less so spit out more. Business is geared to numbers continuously going up. You can throw as much explanation and caveats around a dip in a chart, but all the client will see is that it’s going down and down is bad. The competition is going up and up is good.

“But what if the rival’s boost occurred because their CEO drop-kicked a puppy?”

But what if the rival’s boost occurred because their CEO drop-kicked a puppy? What if their product was suddenly uncovered to be dangerous? What if their factories just burned down and there is endless discussion as to whether they will be able to survive the quarter? Would we recommend our client to seek more coverage just to match this?

Of course we wouldn’t. So that brings me back to the question, what information does share of voice provide that guides an action? What action can you take based on a SOV metric alone? And if SOV alone can’t guide a decision the way sentiment, or quality of coverage, or even volume of coverage can … then is it a metric we want to be using prominently?

The more I examine it, SOV as a metric distracts from the outcomes, is potentially misleading in and of itself, and provides little information value relative to the resources required to collect it.

What our clients are not properly asking for when they say “show me our share of voice” is “mindshare” or what they truly care about which is “share of wallet.”  They want to know what the perception of their brand is in relation to other brands. This is not data that you can collect through counting volume of clips or mentions. This is not volume of coverage but a measure of top of mind awareness. A measure of how much of a family’s resources get devoted to our client’s offerings. A research effort in and of itself.

It would seem to me that SOV as we’re currently looking at it is useful only in situations where we know a PR spend was on par with the competition (say in a sponsorship situation) or as part of an initial audit of the landscape to see how people are discussing brands relative to one another and where media bias towards one brand or another may exist.

But I would appreciate input and thoughts; the wisdom of the crowd. What say you all? Am I tampering with forces man was never meant to tamper with? Will they call me mad at the academy?

Comments or angry tweets below, or to @theelusivefish.

[About the author: Rob Clark is the Director of Insights and Measurement in the Digital practice in Edelman’s Toronto office, a wearer of funky ties and all-round smart guy. You can follow him on Twitter at @theelusivefish.]

Yeah, Well Your Agency Is Killing Unicorns

Daniel Stein recently wrote an attention-grabbing post over at Digiday entitled “HypeBusters: PR Agencies Are Ruining Facebook.” His basic argument: PR agencies are boring and uncreative, and their attempts at engagement are doomed to fail. The right people to manage Facebook pages are, apparently ad agencies. Guess which he works for.

I’m not going to lie — I’m dismayed at the juvenile back-and-forth that’s going on between different marketing disciplines over social media, with posts like this one or like this from Search Engine Journal previously. Didn’t people ever learn how to play nicely with others?

A tale of false arguments

Let’s start with the particular post in question. The primary issue here is the false dichotomies that are put forward. Why does everything have to be black and white?

Why does content have to be purely either “news, offers and the occasional contest” or “developing a brand’s purpose”? Can’t it be a blend, with some variety?

Where is the evidence that PR agencies can’t “do” creative? Isn’t it possible that agencies of all stripes could be creative?

The reality is that multiple partners are often involved in a successful Facebook effort. We frequently work closely with agencies of multiple stripes, and often help clients to develop governance frameworks so that each can bring their respective strengths to the table across multiple activities within a single channel.

Rather than throw up false assumptions about other agencies, look around. These over-generalizations just don’t hold true.

Shades of grey

I could point to Facebook pages we manage with hundreds of thousands or even millions of fans; or to multiple highly-engaged Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, and use that as evidence you that only PR agencies can do this well.

I could point to examples of advertising agency-driven properties that completely fail because there’s nothing but superficial style over substance, and use that as evidence that ad agencies are ruining social media.

This would fit with the approach of the posts I mentioned above.

I won’t, because neither of these claims are true. This isn’t black and white.

Integrate for success

People who argue that only their discipline can “do” social media and that XYZ discipline is ruining it either have no idea what they’re talking about or are lying to you to get attention.

I’ve argued for a long time that effective social media, conducted over the long term and with actual business value, is derived from the integration and cooperation of agency partners. It doesn’t come from petty bickering and competition — from “my agency type is better than yours” behaviour — between so-called partners who don’t play nicely in the sandbox.

Enough with the attention-grabbing BS headlines and false arguments of superiority, already. Acknowledge that different disciplines can learn from each other, that there’s no “one ring to rule them all” and work nicely with your agency partners to do the best job you can for the client.

You know, cooperate. Like adults do.