Liberate Media blends online PR with offline PR expertise to form a uniquely positioned social media agency.

Posts Tagged ‘PR’

The FT recognises a necessary evolution for the PR industry

October 8th, 2012

As you may have seen last week, the FT published a story titled ‘PR and news boundaries are being redrawn’ and it was refreshing to read a piece on the PR industry, written by someone outside of the sector, that focused on a future beyond media relations alone.

The piece by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson overviews the evolution of PR and highlights the development of press release distribution services such as PR Newswire and BusinessWire. These services have a reputation as a channel to reach journalists, but are now being re-born as content distribution platforms.

This change mirrors the way the PR industry is changing as a whole, and this is now beginning to be understood from a wider business perspective.

In my opinion, the media relations tag attached to PR, or should I say shackled to PR, has limited its growth and wider potential as a strategic communications advisor. The PR industry should never have been defined by one tactic alone, and in fairness PRs should not have been willing to go along with the hacks / flacks story. This single minded approach contributed to PR’s slow reaction to the digital and social opportunities of the past 10 years, partly because it had been guilty of misunderstanding the relevance.

The simple truth is that PR has the potential to build the story of a brand, and by story I don’t mean misleading the market in the time honoured tradition of ‘leading solutions provider of industry x’, nor do I mean developing stories in relevant media to convince audiences that brand x is the one they should choose.

I simply mean understanding a brand, its offering and its industry, and translating that understanding into conversations supported by useful content that can help it to communicate the brand’s true potential and vision.

The tactical implementation of that story telling is really where the industry has been hung up for too long, but the PR industry’s strength is that it can build and tell the story, regardless of the method in which it is delivered.

This isn’t a question of tactics, the story is the interesting element, it’s the story that builds interest in a brand, it’s the story that drives conversation and it’s the story that will bring results.

But I digress, back to the piece, which for me came to life in the final paragraph:

“Producing readable, watchable corporate content will not be easy. It will also require much closer integration of advertising, digital marketing, PR and investor relations. But search and social media trends suggest corporate content will only grow. Whether media outlets like it or not, every company will have to become a content company.”

Sweet words of wisdom.

Quality content delivered by the integration of so called ‘channels’ that can no longer live separate from each other. That for me is the future, don’t focus too heavily on the implementation but tell the story.

After all, isn’t that what the PR industry should have been doing all along?

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SEOs will slaughter careless PRs – some thoughts

August 22nd, 2012

Image of ice cream with PR, SEO and links as a perfect solution

Chris Lee’s eConsultancy post – “SEOs will slaughter careless PRs” is a bit of a shocker. His Biblical reference is powerful and apposite. Old stories always work well.

We feel comfortable with these tales because they reinforce our collective sense of self and are very useful. But behind this agreed unity there is a less coherent argument.

Chris’s argument, as I understand it, centres on the fact that too many PR agencies do not see the point of integrating SEO into their campaigns. I’d take us out of that equation and would also expand Chris’s viewpoint. Believe it or not, there are many PR agencies that still don’t embrace social media, let alone SEO.

We’ve been integrating social media with ‘traditional’ PR and SEO at Liberate Media since 2006, working with partners and client agencies. That’s why colleague Lloyd Gofton founded the agency.

We’ve been doing what Chris suggests for six and more years:

· Link building from diverse and authoritative sites.

· Social media signals.

· Optimisation of on-page content.

· Optimisation of URLs.

· Universal search (pictures, video etc).

· Domain-level brand metrics (affinity towards the brand online).

But we’ve been doing much more than this – delivering integrated campaigns that mesh social with traditional PR so that the SEO element of marketing can maximise returns. We engage with media and influencers at every point, online and offline.

That said, my experience of SEO is that it is, at best, an inexact science. Measurement parameters are imprecise. This lack of detail is partly a function of the continual development of search engine algorithms, and the desire of Google to maximise its revenues.

But there is a certain easy acceptance of SEO data that does not push agencies to move forward. From my personal experience, there is only so far you can go with “secret sauce”.

Sure, we can deliver reports that have a range of good-looking figures but whether these correspond precisely to what is going on is not proven.

My intuition is that the current SEO play is under sustained pressure and is seeking partners who can add significant value, through knowledge, connections and expertise, to the proposition.

Partnership with PR agencies might be a way forward but the measurement tactics would need careful attention on both sides.

We’re neither smug nor careless about our business, which is growing rapidly against the grain. As Chris intimates, the skills and nous involved in successful SEO and PR are a rare commodity, one that we will continue to develop.

You can read Chris Lee’s post here.

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Selling to the social customer – a sure way to fail

August 16th, 2012

I’ve been involved in a number of discussions recently about the value of a social approach to communications vs. a more traditional approach.

These discussions have focused on developing PR campaigns, digital campaigns and securing leads, but the overriding theme has been very similar.

Regular readers of this blog will know I have discussed/ranted about social and traditional approaches many times over the last 6 years, so this is nothing new, but every time the discussion comes up it makes me re-evaluate where we are coming from, which i believe is a positive thing.

The ongoing issue goes something like this: The majority of organisations: brands, agencies, charities, public sector, etc, have woken up to the opportunities of social media in recent years, but the tendency is to approach social with a traditional strategy. This for me is the route-cause for most of the discussions we have around ‘fixing failing campaigns’.

Unfortunately, a traditional approach to social rarely works, and when a traditional approach is developed for social customers, the results can be disappointing at best, and the fallout can be very messy and public at worst.

Fundamentally, communicating in a social environment is driven by listening to and understanding the target community, and then engaging with relevant content and conversation.

Traditional approaches tend to miss this vital element and jump straight into the conversation using broadcast messages to engage on what the organisation thinks the community needs to know, with little or no understanding of what has gone previously, or without understanding the debate.

This is not a new discovery, but it is a reflection of the mindset change necessary for those that wish to make the jump to communications online, where the target audience is made up of, or influenced by, ‘social customers’.

So let’s look at the changing customer base that we are dealing with. I have used this definition of the social customer before, but i think it’s worth re-visiting:

The social customer is dynamic, hyper-connected and can shape business and brand reputation by defining an organisation’s value, relevance and reputation. As a result, social customers have compelled organisations of all types to be more customer-centric and have transformed the way in which organisations need to communicate with and, most importantly, listen to their customers.

Put simply, the social customer now owns the relationship, and every organisation needs need to earn his/her trust.

The social customer is also a driving force in the development of the online economy, which is rapidly growing and currently contributes 8.3 per cent to the UK economy. This is more than the healthcare, construction or education sectors.

UK consumers also buy far more from online retail sources than any other major economy and this is expected to continue expanding by 11% per year for the next four years, reaching a total value of £221bn by 2016. Compare this to growth rates of 5.4% in the U.S. and 6.9% in China.

So, if we take this learning on the traditional vs. social approach and appreciate the ultimate audience, which revolves around the social customer, I believe the debate on how we develop campaigns can begin.

Let’s start with the obvious; hard sell in a social environment doesn’t work. We know that. But that doesn’t mean we’re not asked to take this approach in our campaigns, and specifically asked why it is necessary to build a campaign around listening and content / conversation development. Why don’t we just focus on the sell?

The beauty of social media is that it is ‘social’. It rewards a social attitude where brands listen and engage by being useful and relevant, and punishes a traditional broadcast or sales-based approach – i.e. we are the best so buy here.

The reality is that the web is a social tool, and it reflects the characteristics of human behaviour. We don’t tend to buy a service until we trust the provider and have been convinced that it is the right choice by those in our social circle and those that have influence on the subject.

Google ranks websites on relevancy, meaning relevancy of content and relevancy through links, so if we want to be part of that discussion we need to give the community, the brands and Google what they want: knowledge, community, and trust, which makes us relevant and leads to engagement.

If you are under the assumption that people use social media to engage with brands, you will fail, because this is simply not the case for the vast majority. If a brand is interesting or relevant to a specific conversation so be it, but this will not happen through traditional sales-based approaches.

Therefore, if you try selling in a social environment you’ll always be on the outside looking in, wondering why your approach isn’t working, while being blissfully unaware of the social conversations happening all around you.

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PR remains a top career choice for Graduates

August 19th, 2011

It seems the desire for a job in PR is as strong as ever amongst graduates. For example, according to a survey carried out by Give a Grad a Go (a graduate recruiter) 29% of Graduates want to work in PR.

In terms of pay, the survey confirmed that the average graduate salary has risen to £25,500, but this is not the case in PR, where remuneration for entry-level roles sits at around £18,000.

To be honest, I’ve always been surprised by the popularity of PR as a career choice. That’s not to say I don’t think it’s a good career, I’ve been in the sector for many years and the range of opportunities, skills and experiences it has given me are far too numerous to list in this post. However, I’m still struggling to see the enduring appeal and consistently high level of interest, especially when considering the lower pay at entry level.

In reality, The work of a PR is tough and so very far away from the stereo-typical view of the glamorous PR swanning in and out of meetings and parties while sipping Champagne.

The job is highly pressured, demanding in terms of time and skills and leaves many by the wayside. It doesn’t always reward the best, due to internal politics, although they do generally rise to the top eventually.

It’s certainly not a forgiving environment at entry level. At least it wasn’t when I started, perhaps it has changed, but the number of agencies that still recruit unpaid ‘interns’ suggest it hasn’t changed that much.

Of course there are good schemes for Graduates, Taylor Bennett Foundation being one featured in PR Week  recently, but the difference between the imagined life of a PR and the reality seem to be very different.

As part of my role at Liberate, i’m often approached by students and Graduates looking for advice to get into PR, or information for their dissertations. In fact I did an interview on the subject just the other day.

I try to be as honest as possible, as I want them to be fully armed for the reality of the industry if they decide to pursue it. However, my fears are usually exacerbated when speaking to them as I find their understanding of the basics to be pretty poor. Or to be precise, pretty outdated. Some speak a different language, consisting of acronyms I’ve never heard of, or resonate from a dim-dark past, and certainly aren’t common place in the sector.

I’ve spoken before on this blog about the disparity between the academic teachings of PR and the reality, and this only seems to be getting worse with the continuing development of digital, social and integrated marketing techniques that we in the industry take for granted, or at least should.

So, does academia have its role to play in this myth of the PR industry, or am I just lucky to have been brought up in a career that is apparently so in demand and I simply can’t see beyond my own internal blinkers?

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UK PR industry worth £7.5 Billion

July 15th, 2011

Earlier this week, PR Week released the findings of a research project that it carried out in partnership with the PRCA, and research company Harris Interactive, which showed that the PR industry is worth £7.5 Billion to the UK economy.

PR Week confirmed that this research, titled ‘The PR Census’, was: “the biggest ever research project into the UK PR industry, involved an online survey, which generated more than 1,300 responses, and desk research using Government, ONS, PR Week and PRCA data.”

PR Week also helped to put the figures into perspective by confirming the gambling industry contributes £6bn to the economy with over 100,000 employees, (i’ll leave you to make your own jokes about that comparison) where as the PR industry achieves its figure with 61,600. You could argue that in these times of high levels of unemployment, that the more people employed the better, but PR Week see more money from less people as a positive, which it is from a business perspective.

The survey also includes a demographic breakdown on the PR industry, which shows two thirds of PRs are female, 43% are between 25-34, and 84% are from white-British backgrounds.

The salary survey shows in-house PRs are still better paid, although the margins are closing at the senior level. However, apparently an account manager will be paid £8,000 more on average in-house.

You can read more about the PR Week article here or download the full research, although it will cost you £200 if you’re not a PRCA member or PR Week subscriber, in which case it will be £150.

I have also included a few of the graphical representations from the research below:

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Liberate Team predict 2011 trends

January 5th, 2011

Two of the Liberate Media team have offered a brief insight into the trends that they think will be prevalent over the next 12 months.

Let us know your thoughts.

Andy Merchant:

1. Remote control – Direct access to services from your remote control. Netfilx is the first to do this. To allow you to view its services through Internet enabled TV’s. Facebook button coming soon?

2. Still on the TV theme with Google TV. This was badly reviewed when it first came out, but 2011 could be its year. Could it bring the disjointed digital family back together, just as the Wii did in the video console market?

3. Checking in – Location based marketing will grow massively this year. A small number of US sports teams are starting to leverage LBM to create loyalty schemes, watch UK based venues, teams, restaurants, etc do the same this year.

4. Remember a few years back when we were told that the paywall will never work! Well this year you will see many more magazines going behind the paywall and making it work, even more so when the new iPad 2 hits the stores this year.

5. No more online/offline social media/traditional PR – It will just become known as PR, encompassing all skills.

Lloyd Gofton:

6. Digital skills begin to evolve away from specialisms such as social/search/analytics and move towards a more general understanding of the digital landscape. A combined skill set will be more valuable to brands and agencies alike.

7. Measurement activities continue to be focused on traditional ROI rather than a relevant and useful combination of digital, social and traditional metrics.

8. Various agencies and disciplines continue to occupy themselves with the fight for ‘ownership’ of social, while the smart agencies understand ownership is irrelevant and continue to learn, experiment and develop services according to need and opportunity.

9. Brands continue to build an understanding that a social approach to business is just that, not a tactic, nor a communications channel.

10. Social meets mobile as we realise the ‘year of mobile’ is no longer important, but mobile facilitating access to the social web is essential, and as a result brands must invest in an accessible mobile offering.

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What would double-dip recession mean for the PR industry?

September 24th, 2010

Earlier this week, I was asked to provide a comment for a story on PRmoment, titled: ‘How will PR cope if the economy gets even worse?‘.

The piece was published yesterday with part of my comment, but I wanted to share my full comments as I think it’s an important subject.

My initial response was as follows:
“The increasing and very real threat of a double-dip recession is always in the back of PR professionals’ minds. Recent positive results from the major PR groups, and encouraging new business movement, have been tempered by both the IMF and World Bank confirming that the UK Government’s plans to make heavy cuts could lead to a double dip.

“We are in pretty much uncharted territory, with no experience in recent history of how the PR industry might respond to a potential double-dip but I for one am hopeful that even if the economy does take a downturn, the measures taken in 2008 and 2009 will strengthen the sector’s resolve.

“Recessions are uneven and in some cases marketing spend (PR included) can stay level or even rise to combat market conditions, so it may not be all doom and gloom.

“That said, the industry will not enjoy a return to the boom days; we are in for a bumpy ride whatever happens. Agency rationalisation, along with cost-cutting and fresh investment will lead to new forms of cross-sector merger/partnership and the emergence of a different type of agency. New measurable and tangible services should see the sector ride out the worst of any downturn and hopefully come out of the other side stronger and more agile.

“To survive we must keep an eye on economic indicators, use this to inform our decisions on spending and remain cautious.”

Having reviewed the other quotes and sound bites from the piece, it seems the general consensus is that economic hardships are on the horizon again, and if the Government cuts are as bad as it seems, it will be hard to avoid.

However, I standby the point that if PRs aren’t ready for a recession now, when will they be? The tough experience of the last few years has taught us we have to work smart, and not fear the change, but adapt accordingly.

PR is a very different animal today, than it was at the start of the last recession. Most have finally embraced the need to evolve, even if it hasn’t happened for all yet.

Personally, I’m beginning to see some interesting innovation from some of the more traditional agencies, who are at least trying to change, and at best making a real difference. Has recession changed that process? I think it has helped, but the idea that positivity has come out of recession is a difficult concept to appreciate when we’re still recovering from one downturn, and facing another head on.

As an industry we’ve still got a long way to go to move beyond media relations, truly embrace open communications, and look to the next stage, but whether recession has accelerated that process or not will be something for future commentators to decide.

As I said in my initial comment, we’re in for a bumpy ride, but I hope we’re better prepared for hazardous conditions.

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Got your A-Level results? So how do you get into PR?

August 19th, 2010

As you’ve all no doubt seen, A-Level results have been announced today in England, so conversation around qualifications and careers are rife.

On a day like this it certainly takes me back to my own experiences of education, and the path I took to reach my current career. Today though, things are tougher than ever. According to today’s Guardian A-Level students are facing one of the most intense battles ever seen to get into university, simply due to a higher number of students looking for a decreasing number of places. In fact, the total number of places at English universities this year is 365,000, and each University will face fines of £3,700 per student if they exceed their limit.

This means that knowing what you want to do, and getting the correct advice on how to get there, is perhaps more essential than ever.

That got me thinking, how would I advise a student looking to get into the PR sector? To be fair this is a question I have been asked many times, and to be honest I always struggle to answer it with clear and straight-forward advice. Fundamentally, that’s because there is no single, clear and straight-forward route to success.

In my case, I started out in PR 12 years ago, and crossed the divide into social media around 2006. My degree is in Business, but to be honest I had no idea what I wanted to be when I applied or left University, in fact I stayed on at University to add an honours to my degree just to get another year of student life. However, the day finally came when I had to start my career proper, and again, if I’m honest I only took a role as an account executive at a PR agency because I thought PR sounded interesting, not much in the way of career planning there!

Back to the current situation, if graduates or students ask me how to get into PR or social media or hopefully even both, the simple truth is there is no guaranteed method. Having taken my own straw poll of colleagues throughout my career, I would estimate that less than 20% did a degree relevant to PR, now of course you could argue many degrees are relevant to PR, and you would be right, but I’m talking marketing, PR courses, etc.

Why is this the case? Well I would argue it’s simply because in the PR industry everybody starts at the bottom, you learn your trade from the ground up. It used to be the case that a degree was just a pass to get an interview, from that point on it was down to you, your qualifications counted for nothing.

In the past, and in my experience being an interviewer for various agencies, the issue with PR degrees is that the course doesn’t keep pace with the industry, although I’m now assured this is improving. I also realise this is a common complaint with many industries. Therefore, when I am recruiting, I don’t particularly give any advantage to those that have done a PR degree over those that have done History, Geography or English, for example.

This issue is now further complicated by the digital skills required to perform the roll of a PR. Or if you want to go into a specific career focusing on social media, you need to choose how you approach it, i.e. from the comms side, the technology side, web development side or creative side, and ideally with elements of all of the above.

In terms of choosing PR as a career, the number one issue in my opinion is the false reputation PR has developed among graduates, and in fact the general public, as this piece in the Independent proves, and I quote: “Why PR? Because PR is glamorous. You get to go to launch parties and meet interesting people and talk to celebrities.”

Anyone coming into PR with that opinion soon gets hit square in the face with a 2×4 of reality. But then I guess the reality for anyone starting out in PR is a little off putting – terrible pay, long hours, hard and demanding work. However, you will learn a whole host of new skills including many that will set you up for life, and your value, both of self and as an employee, will rocket.

So, to get into PR do you need to do a PR, or PR relevant, course? I would still argue no, but it should help to give you a more realistic picture of the career you have chosen.

Should you try to get work experience before leaving University? Yes, this is something that employers look for, and again it will give you a more realistic picture of the job at hand.

Do you need digital/social media skills? (there are plenty of social media-type courses around ) Yes, I probably would value this, as an introduction, because I’m part of an integrated agency.

I’m certainly not envious of those starting out at University today, well, okay I am envious of the 3-4 years of student life and all the fun that comes with it, but the jobs market and eventual value of the qualification, plus the debt we all come out with, are not attractive at all.

Those that invest time to develop a real picture of the careers options open to them will in my opinion succeed. Again when I was at Uni, careers advice basically came down to ‘what do you want to do when you leave?’ but today there are better options.

Many students take the opportunity to embrace the social web and ask advice from those in the industry, do their research and try to get involved while still studying. This is a smart move; most of us in the industry remember how difficult it was and will help out where we can.

There are also new careers services and guidance available, one of which we are involved in that will be launching soon called WYGU, (When You Grow Up), which is a social careers guidance and mentoring platform that aims to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together to get real information about careers from real people who are in those careers. Take advantage of these services as they offer invaluable advice that you just don’t find elsewhere or through official channels.

In summary, the PR industry is changing, which means the skills required are also evolving. The opportunities to get involved, if you can offer some of the skills mentioned above, are probably better than ever, but be warned if you thought a PR had to be an all-rounder before, it’s stepped up another level, there’s much more to learn.

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How iPhone 4.0 opened Apple’s walled garden of communications

July 20th, 2010

If nothing else, the antenna problem on the iPhone 4.0 has prodded Apple into a more open, web-embracing approach to its communications strategies.

It’s still about controlling the messages but a multi-way conversation has been started – and that means letting go of the command structure. Apple has, rightly or wrongly, been seen as anti-web and seeking to dominate, closing off the areas where it operates online.

The PR campaign around the iPhone 4.0’s problems has a different flavour. Commentators are saying that Steve Jobs was prodded into a reaction by the spectacular online/offline criticisms of the wildly popular handset and certainly an un-timetabled Apple press conference is a very rare event.

Steve Jobs points out iPhone 4.0 qualities at press conference in Cupertino, July 16th

But what was most intriguing about Steve Jobs’ session in Cupertino on Friday was not the apology or the free-case offer; rather, it was his contention that other Smartphone manufacturers had models with signal problems similar to those of the iPhone 4.0.

Now, Steve could have followed the classic Apple tactic of not mentioning the competition, promoting the advantages and innovations of the handset. This time he opened the door to the walled garden and practically invited the world and their cousin to respond. He stoked an external debate – almost unheard of at Apple.

Not surprisingly, the rival handset manufacturers have come out with communications guns blazing as CNET’s Caroline McCarthy reported.

They are more than miffed by Apple’s statements but significantly at the moment they all stop short of claiming that there are no antenna issues on their models. While their responses are very robust, they are on the back foot now, as Apple releases its internal tests on rival handsets, delivering a video website with detailed comparative information.

Ah, but here’s where the Apple openness stops short. The site, while informative and stylish, is a one-way street. No chance to comment or share, which is a missed opportunity and one that I hope Steve Jobs reconsiders. Right now, he’s winning the PR battle by using openness effectively – and maybe Apple will recognise the enormous benefits of opening the door to walled garden even further.

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Social Media is not a separate channel

July 19th, 2010

Felix Wetzel, Group Marketing Director for Jobsite, has posted a blog on The Wall, voicing views that are often overlooked as part of the social media debate – and it’s refreshing to see a senior in-house marketing professional lay his social media cards on the table in such a direct way.

Felix says: “Social media needs to be implemented in the relevant functions and not built as another separate entity. If it’s a separate entity it will fail and will only always remain as another communication channel. Social media has to become part of the DNA, not another add on. Which leads me to one additional point: Any communication agency with a separate social media arm misses the point completely and waves a big sign that reads: ‘We jumped on the band wagon, but we don’t get it!’”

These may seem like brave words to some, but in a climate where too many companies still tend to rank discussions about Social Media in the ‘know we need to, but not 100% sure why’ file, which often leads to implementing social media as a box ticking exercise alone, I would argue it’s necessary to have this debate.

Felix’s key point, that ‘appointing a Social Media manager will hinder the harnessing of the social web’s true potential‘ is valid in my opinion, simply because that job is too often focused on creating a silo where listening, conversation and communication are contained, rather than about opening up these crucial elements to the rest of the business and of course the wider community.

If organisations think that hiring an individual to take care of social media for the whole company is ‘job done’ then it’s a sure route to failure.

If social media strategies are to succeed, they need to be an integral part of the organisation. Social Media isn’t just about marketing, nor is it a tactic, it’s a different way of approaching your business, moving real conversation, reputation and usefulness to the centre of the business, while addressing some of the fundamental issues that businesses of all types face on a daily basis.

You can follow Felix at Felix Wetzel.  He’s also the author of the ‘People, Brands, & Random Thoughts’.

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"I found a higher degree of contacts and enthusiasm and then something far more interesting. They listened, challenged and questioned with a focus and knowledge that I've never experienced before."