Real Time/Social Media is making us spoiled – time for the ‘long idea’

In the old world, the one before the Internet and social media, we got our content when they gave it to us.  It was akin to three square meals a day if you were lucky.  Newspapers flopped onto driveways, radio stations paused at the hour to bring us news and the family (well the parents) sat down to watch the evening news.  These content outlets created funnels through which we got our news, views and perspective.  All that changed when the Internet arrived.  We could now get what we wanted when we wanted.  Well sort of.  Google and Yahoo! served up huge amounts of previously inaccessible content in ways that changed the world forever.  We quickly got used to being able to get news headlines and perspective at our time and place of choosing.  But with this change in behavior came a change in expectations.  Because we can now get news on a subject 24/7, we now want news on that subject 24/7.  If there is no news to report then we are disappointed.  We are, it seems, the spoilt kids when it comes to content. This creates a challenge for brands because you never want to disappoint your customers.

A quick study of top consumer brands show they re all struggling with this challenge.  Whether they are conscious of the challenge is debatable but many are trying to engage more frequently with their customers and partners online to avoid going dark for a few hours.  Think about that.  A decade ago a brand could go dark for days, even weeks and nobody had a problem.  Today we expect our brands to be talking to us, introducing us to their friends, entertaining us and of course keeping us informed every hour of the day.  Big brands, it seems, are being pushed to behave more and more like media outlets.  But constantly creating compelling content is only part of the solution.  Brands need to learn more about how and when their customers want to engage.  They need to plan the engagement cycle rather than the news cycle.  For many this requires a wholesale rethink of how they structure communications and marketing so that they focus less on how to get the news out and more on how to drive engagement on a consistent basis.  That word ‘consistent’ is critical.  Brands that engage around a new campaign and then go dark are the ones that create the largest expectation gap with their customers.  Avoiding going dark requires a rethink of the ‘big idea’ approach to marketing and instead a focus on what the guys at our Bourne agency have termed the ‘long idea’. After all, today’s world needs ideas that drive lasting engagement by creating a series of conversations, not just one.

I challenge you to look at the frequency with which your brand or your clients are creating a reason to engage and then compare that with the competition.  While pace of engagement isn’t everything it is rapidly becoming a key measure of a brand and its value.  So if you are trying to drive brand value, take a long hard look at how frequently you are engaging with customers, stakeholders and partners.  In today’s world, it’s not the only way to drive brand value but it sure is a crucial one.  Oh and while your are at it please make sure to feed my insatiable appetite for updates, insight etc.  In todays’s world can you engage too much?  Let’s leave that topic for another post.

Later.

 


PR agencies are obsessed with bullet points

Look at a PR plan from a PR agency and it will have lots of bullet points.  There will be three key messages displayed as bullets.  There will be three or four key strategies displayed as bullets. There will be a dozen tactics displayed as.. you guessed it.  And so it goes on.  Why the obsession with lists and bullets?  In part because it makes it easier for people to read but mainly because.. well that’s how everyone does it.  But why?  Why are we so obsessed with having these lists?  I may be having a senior moment here, if so please just ignore me but I’m starting to believe that PR agencies lack some serious self confidence. Why do I think this?  Well here are some reasons:

1.  We should have the confidence to have a really great creative idea that marries insight with a perfect message and which naturally lends itself to a tightly defined set of tactics and metrics.  In other words we shouldn’t always need some back up, some other idea just in case the first one fails to get the client excited.  In other words there need not be a number 2.  Now I appreciate that software applications like Word and PowerPoint love bullet points or lists but they’d get used to people not pushing that button I’m sure.

Take a look at that PR plan you wrote for 2010 and ask yourself if you really do need all those messages, strategies, tactics and metrics.  If the answer is ‘yes’ then either you wrote a really insightful or really bad plan.


Why social media is a measure of media consumption

Yesterday I wrote about how social media is increasing the value of traditional media.  It occurred to me today that social media also offers a great way to determine the level to which news from traditional media is ‘consumed.’  For example a news story that gets tweeted by 50 people has been ‘consumed’ by those 50, not just noticed.  If you follow this logic you could create an interesting set of metrics that look at the degree to which certain news items are blogged, tweeted etc.  You could then look to see if certain publications, or certain editors, or certain topics score better than others.  I appreciate that like all metrics there would be ways to influence the results but I suspect it would create a very useful way of assessing the power of media sources over time.


Getting ready for ’09

Queen Elizabeth described 1992 as her “annus horribilis”. Put politely it had been a miserable year for the royals. For many in the financial world 2008 has been their annus horribilis. The collapse of major banks and the credit crunch have driven the world into a recession that is likely to last through most if not all of 2009. This leaves the PR industry with a challenge as it prepares for 2009. At this point most agencies I’ve talked to have seen little real impact on their current budgets. What is less clear is what will happen in ’09. In the next few weeks, clients with calendar financial years will be setting new budgets. Some will inevitably cut their spend, while others will look at ways of consolidating what they do spend with fewer agencies in a bid to gain some economies of scale. Indeed I think this will be a tough period for the small independent agency that derives more than 30% of its revenues from larger companies. In tough times there is a flight to the apparent safety of a larger agency and ironically a belief that the large agency can save them money by offering a more holistic set of services. I say ironically because smaller agencies typically have lower cost structures and big agencies don’t typically do a good job of integrating, so these savings are often mythical.

What I would urge agencies to do, if they haven’t already, is to provide their clients with reasons why PR budgets should be protected during a downturn. If you simply scour the web you will find work such as that done by P&G to measure PR against other disciplines. This work clearly shows the value of PR and why there is a strong link between the sales and brand value of a business AND the PR the company does. I guess my point here is that if we don’t proactively arm our clients with data that really does show why PR should continue to be a priority for businesses facing a downturn then we shouldn’t complain when the budget gets axed.


Measurement – Does anyone really care?

One thing is clear to me right now; measurement has failed to get on the PR agenda. Just read the main stories in the PR trades. Not one of them talks about measurement. Sure it shows up on RFPs, sure clients want to talk about how well things are going and they even want charts showing what a great job is being done for the money. But the sad truth is that PR measurement still doesn’t command a meaningful part of most company’s budgets. Some simple, albeit unscientific, research reveals that out of the five clients I asked not one does measurement in the same way (actually not all bother to measure). Furthermore none of those that do measure have a well defined budget for measurement when planning programs.

A broader look at measurement shows that many people do use firms like Biz360 or Carma but even then from what I can tell the PR staff tend to pay little or no attention to the results these services provide unless of course they think it will help with some internal presentation to justify the funding of the department. We shouldn’t blame our clients for the sorry state of affairs here. After all, how much effort do most agencies put in to being measured? We are the ones who make moey from doing PR so we are the ones who should make sure our clients use tools to make sure that what we do is actually worth the money.

My own view on this is that we need an industry standard form of measurement in the way the ad industry has. This means we need to know what we are to measure, how often we measure it etc. We also need to start to establish an agreed way to invest in measurement. This could be either a certain percentage of fees applied, or a minimum expenditure. I for one would love to see such measurement be carried out in such a way that work done in PR could measured alongside work done in other areas of marketing so that we can finally start to see just how PR stacks up against other forms of marketing.

The current thinking on measurement seems to be to let everyone just do their own thing. Let’s face it this isn’t working. Now I know some PR people don’t want measurement because: a) they’ll have to do some work for the fees they charge otherwise they’ll be found out; b) funds applied to measurement will likely be taken out of the money they would otherwise have been given to run programs, host lunches etc.; and c) they argue that PR is to hard to measure accurately anyway, so why bother? My response to these people is if we don’t adopt measurement then we can expect PR to lag disciplines like advertising for many years to come.

I’d love to see publications like PR Week, O’Dwyer’s as well as organizations like the Council of PR Firms take these issues on and really move the needle. Anyone else want to see this happen?